Wednesday, July 15, 2009

LOS ANGELES — Democrat Judy Chu easily claimed a vacant U.S. House seat Tuesday in a Los Angeles-area district, reinforcing the Democratic majority on Capitol Hill.

The former state Assembly member will become Southern California’s only Asian-American in Congress. She will be sworn in Thursday, giving Democrats a 256-178 edge over Republicans in the House.

With 173 of 209 precincts reporting Tuesday night, Chu had 14,115 votes, or 62 percent. She was trailed by her cousin by marriage, Republican Betty Chu, with 7,355 votes, or 32 percent.

“I’m really proud and honored and humbled to have such an overwhelming vote,” Chu told The Associated Press from her victory party in Covina.

With House Democratic leaders pushing a $1.5 trillion health care measure toward a vote in the full House by month’s end, Chu said she was urged to get to Washington fast and “get ready to vote immediately.”

She said she will become a member of the House Education and Labor Committee, and hopes to join the ways and means as well as the energy and commerce committees. She added that she was also interested in the Transportation and Judiciary committees.

Most residents in the 32nd Congressional District are Hispanic, but Judy Chu assembled a diverse coalition and stressed her ability to work across racial and ethnic lines. Her supporters included Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, one of the nation’s most recognized Latino politicians.

The state Board of Equalization member easily led a field of 12 candidates in a May primary. Because no candidate cleared a majority of the vote, the top finishers in each party advanced to Tuesday’s runoff.

Democrats hold a 2-1 registration edge in the district, and the party has held the seat for decades.

The seat was left vacant after Rep. Hilda Solis was named the Obama administration’s labor secretary.

Solis stayed out of the race, but Judy Chu was endorsed by Solis’ husband, mother, father and sisters. She also had the backing of the powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, headed by Maria Elena Durazo.

The district’s population is about 64 percent Hispanic, 20 percent Asian, 12 percent white and 2 percent black.

Libertarian candidate Christopher Agrella was also on the ballot.

Associated Press video journalist John Mone contributed to this report.

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