California’s 34th District includes downtown Los Angeles (pictured), Koreatown and numerous other neighborhoods. (Giuseppe Milo / CC 2.0)
Many liberals are anxiously counting down the days until the 2018 midterm elections, but residents of California’s 34th Congressional District were able to head to the polls this week to vote in the first congressional race since Trump’s election.
A whopping 24 candidates competed in the special election to replace former House representative Xavier Becerra. Three of these candidates espoused the progressive ideals of Bernie Sanders, who won the district during the presidential primaries. Yet despite Sanders’ success in the region less than a year ago, voters changed gears and picked two Democratic Party stalwarts to face off in a runoff.
The results of the special election are in, more or less. In a race that also featured a half dozen or so interesting female candidates, it appears that two men are headed to a runoff: State Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, who finished first (but was 22 points shy of the 50 percent needed for an outright win), and attorney Robert Ahn, who trailed Gomez by about 9 points. There are still roughly 13,400 ballots left to be counted. That’s a lot of ballots, but Ahn has about double the vote total of the third-place finisher, Maria Cabildo, so the results look final-ish.
The three Berniecrats — former Sanders staffer Arturo Carmona, activist/journalist Wendy Carrillo and Green Party candidate Kenneth Mejia — altogether received just 4,244 votes (pending the late votes still to be counted). That’s fewer than Ahn got all by himself.
“Certainly, the voters didn’t see it as a struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party,” says Gomez’s political consultant, Parke Skelton. “That’s something the press invented.” …
“The Bernie candidates were counting on the Bernie surge to take them over the top,” Skelton says, “and they didn’t get it.”
Green Party candidate Kenneth Mejia – one of the three “Berniecrats” LA Weekly refers to – has repeatedly noted that Sanders served as his inspiration for joining the race. Mejia came in seventh place with 1,276 votes (4.4 percent of the overall votes.)
“We have lots to be proud about,” Mejia said in an email sent to supporters Thursday. He notes that his was “a 100% volunteer run campaign with no paid staff, campaign office, manager, treasurer, or anything” and that his campaign raised “somewhere between $52,000 – $55,000 with around 1,520 individual donations, averaging around $34 a donation.”
“99% of our total number of donations came from small dollar donations of less than $200,” Mejia adds, before going on to compare the cost per vote of each candidate (inferred by taking the total funds raised through March 15, 2017 and dividing that by the total number of votes counted on April 5, 2017.)
A vote for Gomez, the frontrunner, cost $66 and a vote for Ahn, his competitor in the runoff, cost $115.
The money raised during this election is no small matter. The Los Angeles Times previously reported that “top dogs in L.A.’s political and entertainment scene aren’t sitting out the race for this rare open seat,” and noted Gomez raised significant money through connections in the state capitol in Sacramento.
In fact, the Los Angeles Times noted on March 31, “[o]f the more than $2.4 million that has been raised by candidates since December, nearly 75% has gone to just five campaigns.”
As groups like the Justice Democrats seek to get progressive, grassroots-supported candidates into office, the results of the 34th Congressional District special election serves as a reminder of how establishment Democrats can be hard to unseat.
Still, Mejia remains optimistic. “I will continue to serve the community no matter what happens,” his email concludes. “I will also continue to build the local, state, and national Green Party because the people still need more options!”
—Posted by Emma Niles
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