Early returns showed Republican Young Kim leading in the contest for the 39th Congressional District, according to results compiled by the Registrars of Voters in Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.
The candidate closest to Kim was Democrat Gil Cisneros — behind by over 3,500 votes.
Democrats targeted the largely north Orange County district as part of a national effort to secure 24 seats across the country to gain control of the 435-member House of Representatives.
Voters in the 39th district chose Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016 by a margin of nearly nine points. It was the first time a Democrat won the county’s overall presidential vote in 80 years when the county backed Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt for president in 1936, the middle of the Great Depression.
There were 16 names on the ballot for the 39th Congressional District, but the number thinned after some dropped out. Democratic candidates narrowed to six after Jay Chen and Phil Janowicz dropped out because they said the numerous candidates in the race could splinter the vote and lead to a Democratic shutout.
According to the May 21 voter registration report from the California Secretary of State, the district is home to roughly 355,000 registered voters in the three counties, Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino. Orange County makes up the bulk of the district with nearly 217,000 voters.
The gap between Republican and Democrats has narrowed over the years, with Republicans holding a slight edge at 35 percent of voters, followed closely by Democrats at 34 percent.
While the Democrats’ registration numbers haven’t increased much, Republicans have lost over 5 percent of their registered voters since 2012, when they had an eight point margin over Democrats. Former Republican appear to have switched their registration to no party preference, with the no party preference voters making up nearly 27 percent of the district, up from 23 percent in 2012.
Here is the breakdown of votes for the top candidates in the district:
- Kim: 17,129
- Cisneros: 13,604
- Republican Phil Liberatore: 10,157
- Democrat Andy Thorburn: 6,535
- Republican Shawn Nelson: 5,429
- Republican Bob Huff: 4,543
- Democrat Sam Jammal: 3,990
- Democrat Mai Khanh-Tran: 3,576
There were no other Republican candidates running in the 39th until 25-year Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) announced his retirement in January. Within a week of his announcement, at least three Republicans jumped in the race including Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, former Assemblywoman Young Kim and former state Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff.
Democratic candidates Gil Cisneros and Andy Thorburn were engaged in bitter attack campaigns against each other until mid May, when the two — with help from the California Democratic Party — agreed to a cease fire.
The state Democratic party issued no endorsements in the race because local delegates couldn’t come to a consensus on who to support.
Election handicapper websites Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball and the Cook Report labeled the district as a toss up.
Just under 20 percent of voters participated in the 2014 off-year primaries, but that number kicked up to 41 percent participation in the 2016 presidential primaries.
While Thorburn and Cisneros have self-funded millions in their war chests, Democratic candidate and medical doctor Mai-Khanh Tran was raised nearly $1.5 million — including $730,000 she loaned her campaign, according to the most recent campaign reports.
Democratic candidate and civil rights attorney Sam Jammal raised over $500,000 through mostly individual contributions, with a few labor union political action committee donations and some from ActBlue, an online Democratic fundraising organization.
Former Assemblywoman Young Kim was able to raise $916,000 since January, when she — along with the other Republicans — entered the race after Royce’s retirement announcement. Kim has been endorsed by Royce, her former boss.
Republican candidate and Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson raised nearly $570,000 as of the May 16 most recent reporting deadline.
Republican candidate and former state Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff raised roughly $450,000 as of May 16.
Leading up to the primary election, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released two television ads attacking Republican candidates Nelson and Huff.