Democrats Sara Jacobs and Georgette Gómez appear poised to advance to a November runoff for California’s 53rd Congressional District in a race that could reflect national tensions within the party.
Jacobs, who led a crowded field early Wednesday with 29.5 percent of the vote, is the granddaughter of billionaire Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs and was able to self-fund her campaign. She’s also a former State Department contractor.
Gómez, who holds a narrow lead for the second spot on the November ballot with 17.61 percent of the vote, is a former environmental justice organizer and current president of the San Diego City Council, whose campaign has been endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
If the matchup holds, the race could hold national resonance: a billionaire heiress against an AOC- and Sanders-backed community organizer.
It’s not clear either Jacobs or Gómez will lean into that dynamic. If they don’t, national press attention could do it for them.
Jacobs may fit the mold as a Sanders foil based on her personal wealth, but her campaign hasn’t exactly run to the center. She’s run on offering universal health care, sweeping gun control and reforming border and immigration enforcement agencies.
Gómez, meanwhile, has emphasized the ways in which her career on the City Council has set her up to fight against President Donald Trump’s border wall and to deliver the Green New Deal. She’s also argued health care is a basic human right.
After the results were announced Tuesday night, Jacobs said she hasn’t been focused on the other candidates in the race, and that will continue.
“We are very glad that it looks like the seat will stay in Democratic hands,” she said. “That’s something we were really hoping for.”
In the closing days of the race, Gómez’s campaign filed an FEC complaint  alleging Jacobs had improperly promoted a Republican candidate to Republican voters, in hopes of squeezing Gómez out of the runoff, by leaving required disclosures off a campaign mailer. Jacobs has denied sending the mailer.
“We didn’t go negative against any of our Democratic opponents in the primary, that was very important to me,” Jacobs said.
She said it’s become clear over the course of the campaign that voters are looking for someone with experience in the federal government.
“They’re looking for someone who understands how federal policy works, the different levers of power the federal gov can use … who can go to Washington and the bring energy and excitement we’re seeing from young people and harness it to work across the aisle and get things done,” Jacobs said.
Gómez, in an endorsement interview with the Union-Tribune, acknowledged her experience is in local politics.
“I’m not going to claim that I know everything in terms of what’s going on in the foreign policy of things,” she said. “I’m tracking some of it … it’s not a matter of do I know it, but it’s a matter of I will know it. I need to get there to know it.”
After learning that she was likely headed for the November runoff, Gómez said her background offers a clear contrast with Jacobs’.
“It’s somebody who has lived her entire life in the South Bay, daughter of immigrant parents, who grew up in Barrio Logan and now lives in City Heights, who is now Council president, who has shown I can do policies, versus someone who moved into the district and it’s her second time running,” Gómez said, referring to Jacobs’ 2018 run for the 49th Congressional District. “I feel I have a strong narrative in this race. I spent more than a decade as a community organizer. This is my stomping ground.”
Jacobs’ campaign spent $1.8 million over the campaign, compared with Gómez’s $540,000. It’s not the first time Gómez was outspent in a race. She won her City Council seat while being outspent 3-to-1. And she was the lead organizer for a community plan for Barrio Logan that would have separated homes in the area from potentially harmful industrial properties, that lost when shipbuilders pushed the measure to a citywide ballot and killed it while outspending plan proponents 10-to-1.
Gómez said she survived each of those races because of where she came from.
“I’m a believer,” she said. “I’m no different than the people in my district, but I use the privilege I have now to do what government needs to do for them. Sara’s campaign gives me a stronger drive to continue fighting.”
Jacobs said her campaign’s focus will stay on gun control, climate change and the district’s high cost of living.
And anyone looking to compare her campaign to national races with self-funded candidates, she said, is misreading recent results.
“I’m so incredibly grateful for everything San Diego has done for me and my family, and I’m proud of the campaign we’ve run and the ability we’ve had to communicate directly with voters,” she said. “But what we saw with (former New York Mayor Mike) Bloomberg and (billionaire former hedge fund executive) Tom) Steyer is that communication is important, but if you don’t have a message that resonates with voters, no amount of communication can overcome that … It’s clear voters are looking at the experience I bring to the table and a new generation of leaders.”