House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is wasting no time backing his preferred candidate in California’s 39th District, endorsing former assemblywoman and congressional aide Young Kim, who launched her House campaign on Monday.
“Young Kim is a fierce campaigner and one of the top recruits in the country for House Republicans. I’m 100% supporting her candidacy,” McCarthy said in a statement provided first to CQ Roll Call.
Democratic Rep. Gil Cisneros defeated Kim by 3 points in the Southern California district in 2018 after GOP Rep. Ed Royce decided to retire. Kim was a longtime staffer for Royce, serving as his director of community operations before running for the state Assembly.
“I have lived and worked in this district for decades and I personally know the needs and issues of these communities,” Kim said in a statement. “The residents of the 39th district deserve a responsive, service-oriented representative who will be honest with them and that’s why I’m running for Congress.”
Five members of the California delegation, along with Royce, also endorsed Kim on Monday. New York GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik, who launched her own PAC to support Republican women running for Congress, backed Kim as well.
“Young Kim proved to be one of the strongest candidates in America last cycle — and that’s why she’s one or our top recruits this cycle,” Stefanik said. noting that Kim would be the first Korean American woman in Congress, if elected.
The National Republican Congressional Committee does not openly take sides in primaries. But early endorsements from top GOP leaders such as McCarthy could scare off potential GOP candidates who were also eyeing the race.
Crowded primaries present a unique issue in California, where the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the general election. This means one party could be locked out of the general election, although that is more of a possibility in an open seat race that features multiple candidates on both sides.
Cisneros’ victory in California was part of a Democratic sweep in the Golden State last year, where they flipped all seven GOP-held districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. The 39th District is one of four Democratic flips that touch Orange County, which was traditionally a Republican stronghold.
Kim proved to be a strong fundraiser in 2018, raking in $2.9 million.
Cisneros, a Navy veteran and lottery winner, raised $12 million in 2018, which included a $9.2 million loan from himself. On March 31, Cisneros had $214,000 on hand.
The 39th District is once again expected to be a hotly contested race, given the close margin last fall. Republicans view districts such as the 39th, which have long supported GOP candidates, as top pickup opportunities in 2020.
But Democrats say districts like California’s 39th are trending away from Republicans. This district, which includes parts of Orange and Los Angeles counties, has experienced a demographic shift with rising Asian American and Hispanic populations. Clinton won the 39th District by nearly 9 points in 2016.