Gloves come off as Democrats fight for House seat in California

Gloves come off as Democrats fight for House seat in California
© Getty Images

The race between two progressive Democrats to occupy an open seat in California is turning abrasive and expensive, resurfacing pent-up frustrations by Hispanics about the challenges they face when running for office.

San Diego City Council President Georgette Gómez is facing off against Sara Jacobs, an heiress to the Qualcomm fortune in the race in the 53rd District to replace retiring Rep. Susan DavisSusan Carol DavisOvernight Defense: Congress recommends nuclear arms treaty be extended | Dems warn Turkey | Military's eighth COVID death identified Bipartisan congressional task force recommends extending nuclear treaty with Russia The Hill's Campaign Report: Minneapolis protests rock the nation MORE (D-Calif.).

Hispanics are rallying around Gómez amid growing frustration that Latino candidates face tougher odds in gaining statewide office, though Jacobs is avidly courting statewide support as she pitches herself as a young candidate for change.


While Hispanics comprise more than 17 percent of the U.S. population, only 43 members of the House of Representatives, just under 10 percent of the total membership, are Hispanic.

Meanwhile, California currently has elected 11 Latinos to the House out of 53 seats, in a state where around 40 percent of the population is Hispanic. 

"Voters have a decision to make in this district. They can elect the first openly LGBTQ Latina to Congress by voting for a local homegrown leader like Georgette, who's fought for environmental justice, affordable housing and health care, or support a self-funded candidate," Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.) told The Hill.

"This November, we are looking forward to Georgette making history as the first openly LGBTQ Latina in Congress," he added.

Because of California's "jungle primary" system, the two Democrats are competing in November's general election after advancing as the top two from the primary in March from a field of 11 Democrats, three Republicans and an Independent.

Both candidates are running on similarly progressive platforms, including support for "Medicare for All" and providing a pathway for citizenship for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients.


Both boast a number of prominent supporters. Gómez has received the endorsement of Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersObama book excerpt: 'Hard to deny my overconfidence' during early health care discussions Americans have a choice: Socialized medicine or health care freedom Ocasio-Cortez says Democrats must focus on winning White House for Biden MORE (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenAll fracked up: Biden's Keystone State breakdown What do Google, banks and chicken salad have in common? Final debate: War Admiral vs. Seabiscuit MORE (D-Mass.) and an assortment of California Democrats.

Gómez also has the support of key members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), including Cárdenas, who chairs the CHC's campaign arm, Bold PAC, an organization that's spent nearly $150,000 supporting Gómez through its independent expenditure program.

Jacobs, meanwhile, has earned her own share of national and state endorsements, including California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis (D), Colorado Gov. Jared PolisJared Schutz PolisColorado governor says he was not exposed to COVID-19 after Aurora mayor tests positive Nursing home residents stage protest of coronavirus restrictions Newsom's EV executive order will help make California breathable again MORE (D) and Democratic Reps. Abby FinkenauerAbby Lea FinkenauerTrump looms over Ernst's tough reelection fight in Iowa Democrats lead in 3 of 4 Iowa House races: poll Centrist Democrats got their COVID bill, now they want a vote MORE (Iowa), Andy Kim (N.J.) and Lois FrankelLois Jane FrankelShakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' Florida Democrat introduces bill to recognize Puerto Rico statehood referendum Hillicon Valley: Democrats demand answers over Russian interference bulletin | Google Cloud wins defense contract for cancer research | Cyberattack disrupts virtual classes MORE (Fla.).

Jacobs's in-state congressional endorsers are Reps. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellGraham says SC people of color can go anywhere in the state but 'need to be conservative, not liberal' President Trump, Melania Trump test positive for COVID-19 House in near-unanimous vote affirms peaceful transfer of power MORE (D), Katie Porter (D) and Harley RoudaHarley Edwin RoudaUS Chamber of Commerce set to endorse 23 House freshman Democrats OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Watchdog to weigh probe of Trump advancements on Pebble Mine | Interior finalizes public lands HQ move out West over congressional objections | EPA to issue methane rollback: report Watchdog to weigh probe of Trump administration advancements of Pebble Mine MORE (D).

Jacobs has so far raised $3.3 million, $2.7 million of which she's contributed, and spent $3.1 million. Gómez has raised $900,000 and spent $800,000.

Jacobs unsuccessfully ran in 2018 for the seat currently held by CHC member Rep. Mike Levin (D-Calif.) in a separate district, spending heavily on her bid.

That is a sore spot for California Hispanic Democrats, who say they often have to compete against better funded opponents in the party.

"As usual, it's big money, big muscle vs. name ID and a history of being of service to the community. That's the usual story of Latinos in politics, usually outspent and outgunned, but we make up for it with hard work, day in and day out," said Rep. Lou CorreaJose (Lou) Luis CorreaCriminalization that never should have been: Cannabis Man arrested, charged with threatening to attack Muslims in Germany Gloves come off as Democrats fight for House seat in California MORE (D-Calif.), who endorsed Gómez.

A super PAC founded by Jacobs's grandparents, Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs and his wife Joan Jacobs, has independently spent nearly $1.4 million supporting Jacobs.

The Gómez campaign has sought to turn the spending by Forward California into a campaign issue.

"I want it to be less expensive. I'm not the deciding factor in how much money one needs to raise. I know what my competition is willing to spend. We have seen it. When she ran in the 49th and how much money, money spent and pumped into that election, didn't win," Gómez told The Hill.

The Jacobs campaign, however, defended her fundraising ability.

"Sara is proud of the grassroots campaign we've built: raising hundreds of thousands of dollars from grassroots donors, knocking on tens of thousands of doors across the district, and earning the backing of a broad coalition of leaders," wrote Jacobs spokesman Andrew Godinich.

The disadvantage Gómez faces in fundraising is a reality that could make her more reliant on outside groups like Bold PAC as November approaches.

That reality could be risky for Gómez, as Democrats will likely invest more in districts that could fall to Republicans in November.

"Sara believes that if we want politics to be different, we have to do politics differently. That means not accepting any corporate PAC money, paying our staff a living wage, and paying our interns $15 an hour so that more young people have opportunities to be part of the political process. It also means not running a campaign against someone, but rather focusing on talking directly to voters about what we are running for," wrote Godinich.

Gómez has also sought to lean into a media report that Jacobs inflated aspects of her work experience during her 2018 primary run. 

In 2018, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported Jacobs had overstated the importance of her role at the State Department during the Obama administration.


Jacobs has defended her work in the State Department, while touting her understanding of how the federal government works and her policy experience. She has also heavily touted her work experience, including for nonprofits.

Nonetheless, Latino organizations, while bemoaning the fact that intraparty fighting can get in the way of their goal of achieving representational parity for Hispanics, say they will back Gómez strongly and say they plan to continue hitting Jacobs over her financial power.

"This is a race that's a no-brainer for us in terms of increasing representation," said Mayra Macías, executive director of Latino Victory, a progressive Latino organization that's endorsed Gómez

"I can't say what [Jacobs's] family wants to do with their money, but it is not a good example of a democracy. If someone can buy their way in," said Macías.

"She's investing resources, her family's investing resources in enough PACs to support her. And that is the advantage she has, that she is able to outspend Georgette. If it looks like a duck, if it sounds like a duck, it's a duck," she added.