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Ahn and Gomez appear headed to a runoff in L.A.'s congressional race

The two candidates will meet head-to-head in a June 6 runoff. (April 5, 2017) (Sign up for our free video newsletter here http://bit.ly/2n6VKPR)

Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez will advance to a runoff for the 34th Congressional District, according to the Associated Press. Fellow Democrat and former L.A. city planning commissioner Robert Lee Ahn was in second place and claimed victory early Wednesday morning, as thousands of votes separated him from the rest of the huge field.

The two top finishers among the 24 in the race will meet in a June 6 runoff.

It appeared to be a surprising victory for the relatively unknown Ahn and was a predictable one for Gomez, who had locked up dozens of endorsements from elected officials, including Becerra, who gave up his seat to become California’s attorney general earlier this year.

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Complete results may not be available until Friday, when county officials are expected to release the latest tally, but with 100% of precincts reporting, Gomez was leading with 28% of the vote and Ahn with 19%. Provisional and late-arriving mail-in ballots are still to be counted.

Both Ahn and Gomez began positioning themselves Wednesday morning for what could be a costly general election.

Parke Skelton, a campaign consultant for Gomez, said the assemblyman’s lead in such a crowded field was “astonishing.”

“It’s a testament to the strong base of support in the district and a powerful grass-roots campaign,” Skelton said.

Darby Levin, a consultant for the Ahn campaign, said it was clear his candidate was moving on to the runoff.

“This is a mandate that politics as usual isn’t going to work anymore,” Levin said. “This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a victory for Jimmy.”

It was a disappointing result for those who wanted to see one of the many female candidates in the race break through, and for those who hoped one of the several Bernie Sanders-associated progressive candidates would grab a spot.

See full results from L.A.'s congressional primary »

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The 42-year-old Gomez, who was accused of being entrenched in the Democratic Party establishment at a time when such a label seemed toxic, pitched himself as a true-blue progressive with a track record to prove it. A former union organizer, Gomez frequently touted his work to help expand California’s paid family leave law, and his support of a $15 minimum wage and single-payer healthcare.

The 41-year-old Ahn, who would be the only Korean American in Congress if elected, spent major resources registering new voters in the Korean American community and turning them out at the polls. Korean Americans cast more than 4,000 early ballots by mail, according to an analysis by the data firm Political Data. He also tried to appeal to a wider audience on the campaign trail, saying he would bring a “business sensibility to the office.”

With 20 Democrats and a Green Party member competing for votes in this district in the heart of Los Angeles, many hoped the outcome might indicate where the Democratic Party is headed next.

The spectrum of candidates running in the primary shifted the debate decidedly left: Support for a single-payer healthcare system, shows of solidarity with so-called sanctuary cities and speaking out against the Democratic Party establishment were par for the course during the campaign.

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In one of the few districts in California that favored Sanders over Hillary Clinton in last year’s primary, three candidates ran as self-styled “Berniecrats,” hoping to continue the Vermont senator’s “revolution” in Los Angeles. But as of late Tuesday, it appeared all three, Arturo Carmona, Kenneth Mejia and Wendy Carrillo, were trailing Ahn and Gomez by thousands of votes.

Sanders and Our Revolution, the political group he helped start, declined to endorse a candidate, leaving the trio to fight for votes on the left. An eleventh-hour controversy over allegations of sexism leveled at Carmona by former Sanders campaign staffers further split the field.