Republican challenger Young Kim has unseated Democratic Rep. Gil Cisneros in a tight rematch for the 39th congressional district, flipping back a second local House seat that Republicans lost to Democrats in 2018.
“Whoever you voted for in this election, I hope you know that regardless of any differences we may have, I will always work on your behalf and fight for you,” Kim said in a Facebook video declaring victory Friday night.
“Now that the election is over, I hope we can unite and move forward to address the issues that our nation faces.”
Cisneros issued a statement saying “the voters have spoken” after latest results showed Kim with 50.6% of the vote. While there were still several thousand mail-in and provisional ballots left to tally across the three counties that touch CA-39, both candidates said the math made it clear that Kim had won the race.
“I’m proud to have served my country in the U.S. Navy, and I’m proud to have served it again in Congress,” Cisneros said. “It’s been the honor of a lifetime.”
Kim’s victory flips back a second local seat that Republicans lost to Democrats in 2018, with Republican challenger Michelle Steel also defeating Democratic incumbent Harley Rouda in the nearly 48th District. Democrats now hold five of the seven seats that cover portions of Orange County.
When the two first squared off for the seat, in 2018, Cisneros trailed Kim on election night by 3,900 votes, leading to early announcements that Kim had become the first Korean American woman in Congress. But early results have traditionally favored Republicans in California elections. And over the next few days, as mail-in ballots were tabulated into the total, Cisneros pulled ahead. More than a week later he was declared the winner, beating Kim by 3.2 percentage points, or 7,611 votes.
The reverse happened this year. With the pandemic and political rhetoric turning voting patterns on their head, Cisneros had an early nine-point lead Tuesday but was trailing Kim by 4,145 votes as more ballots were counted Friday, Nov. 13.
Cisneros had hoped that his legislation over the past two years in office, including bills to support veterans, and his frequent community town halls and the bipartisan praise he’s drawn from the business community for his work during the pandemic, would boost his standing in the 2020 race.
And most pundits agreed that the race leaned toward Cisneros heading into Election Day, as the district gets more blue, President Donald Trump’s divisiveness hampers down-ballot Republicans, and the soft-spoken incumbent finds his voice in Congress.
But Kim was eager to use Cisneros’ record against him. Her campaign argued that Cisneros’ record of consistently voting in line with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shows he is too liberal for a district that is still purple.
Kim also already had name recognition of her own. She’s a former State Assembly member and was a longtime staffer to Ed Royce, who opted not to run for reelection to the seat in 2018. She’s also shown herself to be the rare Republican willing to speak out against Trump when she disagrees with his stance. And she pitched herself as the most trustworthy candidate to help the district, and the nation, return to solid economic footing.
Kim, 57, worked in finance before starting her own small business in the women’s clothing industry. She also worked as a district aide for Royce for more than two decades until, in 2014, she became the first Korean-American Republican woman elected to California’s Assembly, representing AD-65. While in office, Kim introduced state legislation to build a veterans hospital in Orange County and to protect victims of domestic violence. Kim lost her reelection bid in 2016, then narrowly lost the 2018 challenge against Cisneros.
Kim campaigned on pledges to address homelessness, reform immigration, lower regulations for businesses and improve healthcare.
She had the fundraising edge heading into Election Day, having raised $5.4 million to Cisneros’ $3.9 million.
Cisneros is a Navy veteran who began to focus on philanthropy and politics after he won a $266 million lottery jackpot in 2010. He campaigned this cycle on issues such as healthcare for all, rights for LGBTQ people, ending gun violence and college affordability.
“As the son of a public school cafeteria worker and a Vietnam Veteran, my parents could have never imagined their child being elected to Congress,” Cisneros said Friday night. “I will take some time to reflect on my future and spend time with my family, but I guarantee you all that my commitment to service and my love for our country will remain strong. …There’s a lot more work that needs to be done, and I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me.”
Kim will take over the seat when Congress reconvenes Jan. 3.
“As an immigrant to America, I know that the promise of America is alive,” Kim said. “I will work to continue to keep that promise alive.”
Source: Orange County Register