“She’s someone I very much respect,” Cisneros said in an interview. “I want to go on and continue her legacy in the 31st [district]. But I want to build upon my own too.”
Cisneros was a philanthropist and political outsider when he won his first campaign in 2018 as part of the anti-Trump wave and a historic Democratic sweep in Orange County, the state’s longtime conservative bastion. This time, he is running as a Washington veteran whose work has put him squarely at the center of national culture war battles. The race will test the resonance of the partisan culture clashes with voters in a solidly Democratic district.
After losing reelection in 2020 to now-Rep. Young Kim (R-Yorba Linda), Cisneros was appointed to serve in Biden’s Defense Department, overseeing the military’s personnel and readiness. He has implemented the Pentagon’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in that role, making him a GOP target.
Colorado firebrand Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) sought to slash his salary to $1, accusing him and other officials, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, of weakening the military with their “woke agenda.” Cisneros also clashed with Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), who is blocking key military promotions to protest a Pentagon’s policy that helps service members access abortion and other reproductive health care.
“What Senator Tuberville is doing right now is putting our nation at risk. And that’s an issue that needs to be talked about,” he said.
Safe, open Democratic seats are rare in California, where incumbents can build decades-long careers with little opposition. Already there is a crowded field vying for Napolitano’s San Gabriel Valley district, where Democrats have a 27-point registration advantage. Among the contenders are the two state senators from the area, Susan Rubio and Bob Archuleta, whom Napolitano endorsed.
Rubio’s Senate seat overlaps with roughly 70 percent of the congressional district, while Archuleta’s represents 17 percent. There is very little overlap between the area and Cisneros’ old seat.
While he may be unfamiliar to voters there, his campaign rollout emphasizes his roots in Eastern Los Angeles, including his philanthropic work in Pico Rivera, just outside the district’s lines. He launched his race with backing from other California delegation members, including Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Nanette Barragán (D-Hermosa Beach). He also has the advantage of his lottery winnings, which he’s tapped to finance previous campaigns.