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Congressman Gil Cisneros. (Photo: Twitter)

2020 March Primary Preview: 39th Congressional District

California Globe takes an inside look into the 39th Congressional District primary race

By Evan Symon, February 18, 2020 6:43 pm

The 39th Congressional District:

The 39th Congressional District takes up a parts of Los Angeles, Orange, and San Bernardino Counties. Comprised of Los Angeles and Orange County suburbs, it’s a fairly wealthy district, with the average income hitting about 90,000. Fullerton, Diamond Bar, and Richard Nixon home town Yorba Linda are also situated here.

The 39th is the prototypical Orange County/Los Angeles suburban district: A formerly Republican-strong area made recently into more of a swing district thanks to former LA citizens spreading out and more younger people moving in. While more state and national races have gone to Democrats in recent years, the GOP in the 39th really wants to reverse that. A Republican resurgence in the last decade has now made the district about even in terms of overall support, so it’s very possible.

History of the 39th:

Former Congressman Ed Royce. (Wikipedia)

Since becoming a district 30 years ago, the 39th was a strong Republican district for several decades. Around 2000 more and more races went the Democrats way and the district was almost written off by the GOP as having gone blue in 2010. But a Republican resurgence following the Great Recession brought many seats back to the GOP, with some state and national candidates winning the district for the first time in years. To give an idea of how split it now is, Trump lost here by almost 10% in 2016, yet Cox edged out Newsom during the Governor battle in 2018.

For Congressional members it has also gone with the times. Republican Congressman Ed Royce had the seat for ten years until 2003 when he was beaten by Democrat Linda Sanchez. Sanchez was then the districts representative for ten years until 2013 when she fell to Ed Royce during the midterm shuffling. Royce held on until 2019, when another midterm reshuffling election in 2018 brought in Congressman Gil Cisneros (D-CA).

The GOP wants the seat back, especially after Cisneros only won 52% to Republican former Assemblywoman Young Kim’s 48%. The Democrats want to keep the district, seeing any part of LA County being Republican as a bit of an embarrassment.

With Cisneros being an effective incumbent and Kim having the name recognition and the near-win, 2020 is looking out to be round two for the candidates.

Gil Cisneros:

For an incumbent, Congressman Gil Cisneros faces an uphill battle for his sophomore term. A former Navy veteran and shipping manager who won over $200 million in the California Lottery in 2010, Cisneros has spent the last decade being a philanthropist. After setting up numerous scholarships and giving numerous donations, Cisneros turned his eye to politics. Citing Congressman Royce’s vote against Obamacare as a catalyst to run, Cisneros won a tight race in 2018.

Cisneros has spent the last term being on the Armed Services and Veteran’s Affairs committees and has been a fairly middle of the road Democratic voter. He usually toes the party line but does make the occasional out-of-party vote concerning issues that would affect the 39th or on matters regarding the military. For 2020, his platform covers pretty much every hot button issue ranging from increased gun control, increasing minimum wage, more animal rights laws, protecting Obamacare, more LGBT and women’s rights protections, and more retirement security. The ‘shotgun’ approach has worked in the past for a lot of candidates, and Cisneros is counting on it this year too.

Cisneros also enters the race with a lot of support: Firefighter unions are for him, as is Planned Parenthood, the California Teachers Association, numerous equality groups, and several labor groups like the AFL-CIO. Former President Barack Obama, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti are some of the biggest names supporting him, but he also has several members of congress, assemblymembers, state senators, and local officials giving their endorsement.

Cisneros is preparing for a fight.

Young Kim:

Former Assemblywoman Young Kim. (Youngkim)

Former Assemblywoman Young Kim is running for the 39th again after losing by a slim margin two years ago. Kim was a longtime aide to former Congressman Ed Royce in the district, being a community liaison for him while he was a state Senator, and later, when he was a Congressman. She quickly climbed the Republican ladder from there, winning the 2014 Assembly election against Sharon Quirk-Silvia (D-Fullerton) in the 65th district before losing to her the very next term. She is still aiming to be the first Korean-American to be elected to Congress.

Kim is almost the exact opposite of Cisneros politically. They share views on Veterans but that’s about it. She is against Obamacare, wants more STEM funding in schools, wants to help target the homeless crisis from Washington, and wants overall lower taxes. She showed shades of being a fiscal conservative during her term in Sacramento, and everything points to her continuing that in Washington.

Topping Kim’s list of endorsements in former Governor Pete Wilson, former House Speaker Paul Ryan, and her former mentor Royce. Following them is virtually ever California Republican in the House, Assembly, and state Senate. More locally, the majority of mayors in her district are on her side, along with dozens of other elected officials. While the party is backing her, she has the support of very few unions. She has many business organizations for her, but the question remains is that if that will be enough.

Independent Steve Cox is also running, but he has not tracked very high leading up to the primary.

What does this mean?:

This will be a close one. Cisneros is the incumbent and has proved himself to be capable despite no prior elected experience. However he voted for Trump’s impeachment and was one of the first supporters for impeachment. A lot of voters here go in undecided, but prior elections have shown that they tend to lean right. This issue may convince them.

Cisneros also has to face an unusual swelling of Republican support in the district, something that rarely happens in urban areas in California these days. That being said, his name recognition is strong and it may just be enough.

Kim needs to prove that she has what it takes and not bank on any singular issues to carry her in. If she can hammer home the faults he has made and his voting record, she has a good chance. Besides Trump, the Obamacare issue may be her key to victory, as many people in the wealthy district, both Republican and Democrat, have raised opposition to the law.

This seat has gone back and forth since 2003, and both want it to swing towards them in 2020. Republicans have a better chance at taking it back than the the Democrats keeping it right now, but that can all change next week.

It’s that close.

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Evan Symon
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