Insights from the Young Kim for Congress Campaign

The AAPC recently caught up with Sam Oh and George Nassar from the Young Kim for Congress campaign to share their experience on their success flipping a California House seat for the first time since 1994. The team is also the recipient of AAPC’s 2021 Republican Campaign of the Year Award.


What was the biggest obstacle that your team faced on the campaign trail, and how did you overcome it?

California’s 39th district is an incredibly diverse district that Clinton won by 8.6% in 2016, and that has been trending Democrat for years — going from an 8.8% Republican registration advantage in 2012 to flipping to a 4.0% Democrat registration advantage by the November 2020 general election. California also instituted an all-mail ballot system in 2020 so we knew that turnout was going to be incredibly high in a seat that President Trump lost by nearly 10% in 2016.

Young Kim – a former State Assemblywoman and Community Liaison for former Rep. Ed Royce – narrowly lost her 2018 matchup with Gil Cisneros and was motivated to face every obstacle head on.

Kim retained strong residual name ID from her 2018 campaign and early on, due to her extensive work in the community building relationships and helping residents, actually had a better fav/unfav image than Rep. Cisneros in each of our polls.

We implemented an extensive campaign to communicate with Independents, soft Democrats, Korean, and Chinese voters utilizing direct mail, digital, and P2P heavily since the district is in the very expensive LA media market. We campaigned extensively using Korean and Chinese language tv, digital, direct mail, SMS, phone banks, and door-to-door. The campaign also waged a strong ground campaign in 2020 that we identified could be improved and be more comprehensive.

These efforts, along with a dynamic candidate, allowed Young Kim to receive 19,507 more votes than President Trump and overcome record high turnout where 100,000 more ballots were cast in 2020 than 2018 when she narrowly lost.

What specific team efforts contributed to the success of the campaign?

2020 was a rematch of the most expensive House race in the 2018 general election due largely to incumbent Democrat Gil Cisernos giving his campaign nearly $9.3 million. Also, in the aftermath of the 2018 cycle there was a strong prevailing narrative that ActBlue could super charge the campaigns of every Democratic campaign in the country, so we knew, as the challenger, we could very well be out-raised, out-spent, and faced with high voter turnout in a seat with a plurality of registered Democrats that was trending even more Democrat.

Young Kim is a dynamic candidate and tenacious fundraiser so we planned to invest early and often in a comprehensive small dollar program – utilizing both digital and direct mail.

That early investment allowed us to do a lot of lead generation but also do significant message and creative testing that resulted in us building out one of the best small dollar programs on the Republican side today.

That foresight, conviction and planning allowed for Kim, as a challenger, to out-raise Democrat Gil Cisneros in the 2020 race by nearly $2 million and help mitigate the outside group spending disadvantage.

In the 2020 cycle, Kim outraised Cisneros $3.2 million to $500,000 in contributions $200 and under.

What did you find most rewarding about working on this campaign?

For our team, the most rewarding part of the 2020 Young Kim campaign was electing a candidate we all believed in. A candidate who persevered and never gave up when times were tough. A candidate who outworked and outhustled her opponent and proved all the D.C. chattering class wrong on their forecasts of a loss. A candidate who put her trust in us to tell her unique personal story. We are proud of our close-knit team and our collective commitment to the game plan. Flipping a California House seat to Republican for the first time since 1994 with little outside help in a district that Biden carried by 10% is a success story that the team is truly proud of, and it could not have been done without the strength of the candidate – Rep. Young Kim.