Nathan Hochman advances to Los Angeles County district attorney runoff against George Gascon

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Former federal prosecutor Nathan Hochman has advanced to a runoff against Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, one of the country’s most progressive prosecutors.

Gascón and Hochman will compete in November in the race to lead an agency that prosecutes cases in the most populous county in the U.S.

Hochman was as a one−time California attorney general candidate. Running as a Republican in 2022, he lost to Democratic candidate Rob Bonta. Hochman’s district attorney campaign says he raised $2 million in his bid to unseat Gascón.

To win the primary outright in California, a candidate needs to get a 50%−plus−one vote. Anything less triggers a runoff race between the top two candidates in November regardless of party.

Political experts said Gascón was expected to advance from the nonpartisan primary but are less optimistic about his chances in the fall.

Hochman emerged from 11 challengers running against Gascón, who was elected on a criminal justice reform platform in 2020 in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by police. He faced a recall attempt within his first 100 days and a second attempt later, which both failed to get on the ballot.

Hochman has tried to capitalize on voter anger over crime and homelessness, issues that led voters to unseat San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin in a recall election in 2022.

In his campaign ads, Hochman, a defense attorney, vowed to change the direction of the district attorney, saying: “It’s time we had a DA who fights for victims, not criminals.”

The challengers, ranging from line prosecutors in Gascón’s office to county judges to former federal prosecutors like Hochman, sought to blame Gascón and his progressive policies for widespread perceptions that the city is unsafe. They highlighted shocking footage of a series of brazen smash−and−grab robberies at luxury stores. The feeling of being unsafe is so pervasive that even the Los Angeles mayor and police chief said in January that they were working to fix the city’s image.

But while property crime increased nearly 3% within the sheriff’s jurisdiction of Los Angeles County from 2022 to 2023, violent crime decreased almost 1.5% in the same period.

During his first term, Gascón immediately imposed his campaign agenda: not seeking the death penalty; not prosecuting juveniles as adults; ending cash bail for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies; and no longer filing enhancements triggering stiffer sentences for certain elements of crimes, repeat offenses or gang membership.

He was forced to roll back some of his biggest reforms early in his tenure, such as initially ordering the elimination of more than 100 enhancements and elevating a hate crime from misdemeanor to a felony. The move infuriated victims’ advocates, and Gascón backpedaled, restoring enhancements in cases involving children, older people and people targeted because of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability.

Hochman has vowed to reverse many or nearly all of his most progressive policies, such as his early orders to eliminate filing for sentencing enhancements.

Stefanie Dazio, The Associated Press

Photo: AP