California special election could be party bellwether for Dems
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When it comes to the Tuesday special election to fill California Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraOvernight Energy: US greenhouse gas emissions fell in Trump's first year | EPA delays decision on science rule | Trump scolds California over wildfires EPA puts science ‘transparency’ rule on back burner Public charge rule is a cruel attack on children MORE’s former House seat, the 24 candidates can be divided into two groups: Jimmy Gomez and everyone else.

Gomez, a state assemblyman, has won valuable endorsements — including Becerra’s​ — and is expected to receive the most votes. But he isn’t expected to win a majority, which he’ll need to avoid a June 6 runoff.

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Los Angeles voters will choose among Gomez and 23 other candidates, including 19 Democrats, in Tuesday’s all-party primary.

Under California’s system, the top two candidates will move on to a general election unless someone receives more than 50 percent of the vote.

With a slate of high-profile endorsements and a hefty campaign treasury, Gomez faces a variety of Democratic rivals.

“There’s a dominant, favored, establishment candidate who’s got all the endorsements. … There’s a bunch of different flavors of outsiders,” said Sean Clegg of SCN Strategies, a political consultant working for Sara Hernandez, who has raised more funds than any other candidate except Gomez, when candidates’ own contributions are excluded.

The district, which Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersBooker holds 'Get Out the Vote' event in South Carolina as presidential speculation builds The Democratic Donald Trump is coming Biden: Trump administration 'coddles autocrats and dictators' MORE (I-Vt.) narrowly won in last year’s Democratic presidential primary, will almost certainly elect two Democrats to go on to the general election.

On the other hand, if a split Democratic vote and Republican turnout somehow push GOP candidate William Rodriguez Morrison on to the next stage, the hotly anti-Trump district will likely give the seat to Gomez.

Most likely, a progressive will face Gomez, whose allies dispute the idea that he’s the establishment’s pick. 

“Everybody else has been kind of trying to put Jimmy in the corner as part of the establishment,” said Larry Gonzalez, a Washington, D.C., political consultant who supports Gomez. 

“If establishment means you have the most relationships and the most experience in the legislative arena, whether with the mayor or the Speaker of the House of California, then that’s a good thing,” he added.

Arturo Carmona, a former Sanders campaign staffer whose name is closely identified with the Vermont senator’s brand of progressive politics, has been one of Gomez’s strongest critics in the race. 

Carmona, who raised the sixth most money among candidates in a Los Angeles Times analysis, went after Gomez’s fundraising record and sharply criticized the California Democratic Party’s endorsement of Gomez.

But Carmona, who boasts more name recognition than many of his rivals, took a hit Friday when former Sanders staffers accused him of covering up allegations of sexual harassment during the campaign.

“I categorically deny any accusations of sexual harassment or fiscal mismanagement made against me. I do not take this lightly,” Carmona told the Times on Friday.

The accusation was leveled by Masha Mendieta, a former Sanders staffer who now supports Hernandez. Other prominent Sanders campaign staffers backed up her claim.

But Carmona faces another big disappointment in the race: not receiving an endorsement from Sanders. That could still change if Carmona — or another progressive candidate — advances to the general election.

Although Sanders stayed out of the race, nationally recognized Democrats like Becerra and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti did not, and they leaned toward Gomez.

The Times editorial board, meanwhile, endorsed low-income housing developer Maria Cabildo, praising her work outside politics.

Most campaigns are expecting a showdown with Gomez in June, and many are expecting to rally around a single progressive candidate in the general election.

But the general election forecast could change, depending on which candidate grabs the second-place spot in the primary.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) has an interest in assuring that the seat continues to be held by a Hispanic lawmaker.

That decades-long streak is likely to continue, in part because a majority of the candidates are Hispanic.

But Robert Lee Ahn, a lawyer and businessman with deep connections to the district’s large Korean-American community, has surprised his rivals with a competitive fundraising and field operation.

Ahn has led the field with over $600,000 in contributions, according to Ballotpedia, although nearly half of that came from the candidate’s self-funding, according to the Times.

“He distorted the picture because he put a bunch of his own money in there, too,” said Clegg.

If Ahn makes it to the next round, Gomez’s support from Hispanics in the local and national parties could be galvanized to keep the CHC’s membership number at its current all-time high in Congress.

For a race involving two dozen candidates, there have been relatively few attacks among campaigns.

“It’s just mostly been focused on Trump at this point, and then ‘I’m going to go to Washington and fight against Trump,’ ” said Gonzalez.

The two general election candidates will likely keep in mind that the contest will highlight any lingering divisions in the party following a divisive presidential election year.

Keeping the general election relatively clean may prove easy compared with keeping track of the 20-Democrat field for Tuesday’s primary.

And the 34th District, despite its racial and cultural diversity, is one of the most politically homogenous districts in the country. 

“They’re all really very similar. Where Jimmy has been able to distance himself from the pack, beyond the money, is that he’s actually done it. He’s actually passed legislation,” said Gonzalez.

But the fight between the party’s establishment and its challengers will dominate Tuesday’s primary, and whoever moves on to the next stage with Gomez will try to extend that debate until June.

“That’s really where it’s going to go. Do you want a Sacramento legislator who’s taking gobs of money from dirty special interests? Or do you want a classroom teacher? Or do you want a former school board member, or do you want a former White House aide?” Clegg said.

“Every one of the other candidates is going to present a walking, talking anti-establishment contrast to Gomez, and I think that’s his real challenge in the general,” he added.