LOS ANGELES — A state assemblyman with the support of establishment Democrats in Los Angeles appeared to be fending off a challenge from a lawyer with deep roots in the district’s Korean-American community Tuesday in the race to fill a vacant House seat.
Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez led Robert Lee Ahn by 4 percentage points in early returns. But the count appeared to bode well for Gomez, who was widely expected to start behind Ahn in early voting before making up ground in later returns.
At Gomez’s Highland Park headquarters on Tuesday night, supporters were celebrating, having expected to see their candidate start from behind.
“Jimmy’s going to win,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said.
The Democrat-on-Democrat contest to fill California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s former congressional seat was once viewed as a test for liberal Democrats in a district Bernie Sanders carried in the presidential primary election last year.
But after two candidates with ties to Sanders were eliminated in the April congressional primary, Our Revolution, the successor group to Sanders’ presidential campaign, endorsed Gomez, and the race became a clash of two different ethnic groups’ influence in the safely Democratic district.
Gomez campaigned furiously over the weekend to fend off a challenge from Ahn, who sought to become the only Korean-American in Congress. Despite the district’s heavily Latino electorate, Ahn’s turnout operation appeared to help him run up an advantage in early returns in the district that stretches from downtown to Koreatown, Eagle Rock and Highland Park.
According to an analysis on Friday by Paul Mitchell of Political Data Inc., 7,800 Asian Americans had cast ballots in the low-turnout election,outperforming Latinos by more than 2,500 votes. That would appear to advantage Ahn, who showed a similar lead in early returns in the April primary but fell behind Gomez on Election Day.
The question heading into the final hours of the race was whether Ahn could run up the early vote enough to stay ahead. The former Los Angeles planning commissioner cast his own early ballot Sunday at Pio Pico Library in Koreatown, where red signs advertised early voting and dozens of Korean Americans lined up to vote.
“Especially in a special election like this, turnout is extremely low, and that’s the challenge for any candidate, is to be able to get our voters out,” Ahn said.
Gomez was across the district in Highland Park, rallying precinct walkers with Dolores Huerta, the famed labor leader. A sign on the wall listed a number for volunteers to call if a voter needed a ride to the polls.
“The turnout is very similar to what we saw during the primary, with the rough percentages of Asians, Latinos, whites and other ethnic groups voting,” Gomez said. “It’s very similar. So we expect to have a similar kind of result.”