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In ‘Craziest House Race,’ GOP’s Young Kim Touts Independence, Connection to Voters

Young Kim

YORBA LINDA, Calif.—Young Kim, the Republican candidate locked in one of the tightest House races in the nation against self-funding Democratic lottery winner Gil Cisneros, isn't afraid to show-off her independent streak.

Asked how she's competing against the $9 million of his own money Cisneros has poured into the race, Kim says she too won the lottery when her family immigrated to the United States from South Korea and she was able to go to college and start a life here.

"I won the lottery when my family came here and became American citizens," Kim, 56, told the Washington Free Beacon Saturday.

During the interview, she stressed her independence from President Trump on the immigration issue even as she strongly backed the administration's economic policies and GOP tax cut and eschewed the way Senate Democrats overplayed their hand when it came to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's nomination.

"Even some of my Democrat friends were coming up to me and saying that was the final straw—that really is what made them change from being Democrat to Republican or no-party preference to Republican," she said of the Kavanaugh firestorm. "They've had it with the dysfunction that they saw in Washington and the instability that they witnessed in the last few weeks [of the nomination process]."

If Kim manages to beat Cisneros, a Navy veteran who won the lottery soon after losing his job as a Frito-Lay manager, she would be the first Asian-American Republican woman in Congress, representing a district where two-thirds of residents are either Asian or Latino.

Kim readily acknowledges that the country's immigration system is broken. She opposes sanctuary-city policies but supports a pathway to citizenship for DACA dreamers and decries the Trump administration's policy of separating families who cross into the country illegally.

She also stresses the need for stronger immigration enforcement when it comes to illegal immigrants who are abusing the porous border for drug dealing and human trafficking.

"I don't agree with [Trump's] immigration policy. I've said very clearly, I don't agree with his family separation because that is totally against our family values," she said. "I've always said family migration needs to be strengthened, not taken away—that's how my family came over here."

"That's a different position than the administration's so people see me as an independent voice who wants to do the right thing," she added. "This is a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. We just need to make it stronger and better."

Kim knows the race will turn on far more than just immigration policies. Homelessness, housing affordability, healthcare, and heavy state taxes driving companies to leave the state are hot topics on voters' minds.

The district is a literal Southern California crossroads, crisscrossed by freeways, it combines pieces of Los Angeles, Orange, and San Bernardino counties and stretching from Pomona to the North to Yorba Linda, President Nixon's birthplace.

The Nixon presidential library is just down the street from Kim's main campaign office, a barebones 1920s building believed to be one of Nixon's first campaign headquarters for his early House races. Real-estate signs dotting the neighborhood advertise new homes starting at $1.7 million.

"Californians are already over-taxed—we are taxed to death," Kim said at a Saturday rally outside her campaign office aimed at repealing the state's most recent gas-tax increase. "We cannot let Californians keeping paying more."

"If Sacramento politicians will stop raiding into the funds that are already there to take care of our roads and infrastructure needs," the state legislature wouldn't need the extra money, she said, citing the multi-billion-dollar overruns for the Democrats' high-speed rail project that aims to connect Los Angeles to San Francisco.

Kim knows the district constituents well after working for the current GOP congressman, Rep. Ed Royce (R., Calif.) for 21 years in his congressional office and before that in his state office. Kim also ran for the California state assembly and won in 2014 but lost the seat two years later.

The congressional seat opened up when her former boss announced his retirement earlier this year. Royce had won by double-digits in 2016 the same year Hillary Clinton beat Trump by 8.6 points, making the district a prime Democratic target this year.

The open seat attracted a flood of candidates, and in both the primary and the general has provided so many ups and downs and colorful turns-of-events that the Weekly Standard recently dubbed it the "craziest race in the House."

In the primary, Cisneros was one of two millionaire Democrats duking it out for a chance to run. The primary campaign was so ruthless and nasty, California Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had to step in and referee.

Cisneros previously identified as a Republican but has been running a liberal general campaign, backing Medicare for all, sanctuary cities, minimum-wage increases, gun-control measures, and opposing the gas-tax repeal even though Californians pay some of the highest gas taxes in the nation.

For months, Cisneros also was plagued by a #MeToo sexual harassment complaint that died down only after his accuser, a Democratic Party activist who ran an unsuccessful campaign for California state assembly, withdrew her complaint and declared a ceasefire.

In addition to the $8.8 million of his own money Cisneros has contributed to the race, he cut a late $200,000 check last Thursday and collected nearly $2 million in donations. Kim has raised $2.5 million in donations, while deep-pocketed interests on both sides have poured millions into the battle.

Over the weekend, Kim campaigned with gas-tax repeal organizer Carl DeMaio and GOP gubernatorial candidate John Cox, who is running an uphill battle against Democrat Gavin Newsom.

"If we lose this seat to Gil and his billionaire backers he's going to go to Washington and he's going to raise taxes—he's going to take freedoms away," DeMaio said at the Saturday rally.

"We've got to get the word out that Young Kim is the right representative for this district. She is literally a role model of someone who has come to this country and through grit and hard work has made such an amazing career, and she wants to have that same opportunity for everybody," he said.

Cisneros has spent the last few weeks of the campaign trying to link Kim to House Republicans' and Trump's efforts to roll back Obamacare, which Democrats have argued would jettison protections for pre-existing conditions. Trump and Republicans have denied trying to gut the popular pre-existing condition protection from the law.

Cisneros welcomed Newsom and Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.), two former Democratic adversaries who have recently joined forces to help a number of Democratic candidates in competitive races across the state.

Harris and Newsom didn't appear at a public event but instead were captured by supporters in a video delivering pizza to Cisneros campaign volunteers on Saturday.

"There is so much at stake and we need the strongest soldiers on the field," Harris said of Cisneros.

Cisneros followed up with a message of his own on Twitter: "This has been a challenging two years. We've seen our President cage immigrant children & sell out our democracy to the highest bidders. We need to restore decency to our Politics. Vote Nov. 6."

As voters head to the polls Tuesday, Kim is counting on her long-term commitment to the district to put her over the finish line.

"It's the connect-ability—the relationships—how I know everyone by their first names, how they know me," she said. "I didn't just come out here because I decided to run and then had to make all these connections. People already know me."