Two days into the race for Los Angeles mayor, front-runner Karen Bass is struggling to maintain her long-standing advantage as the favorite of the city’s liberal Democratic political base, while businessman Rick Caruso tries to forge a new winning coalition that will be largely Latino is born and residents of the San Fernando Valley.
Both Bass and Caruso now appear to have paths to victory in a contest Bass had dominated for months, beating Caruso by 7 percentage points in the June primary and climbing to a lead of as much as 21 points by late summer. Bass’ lead, within the margin of error, had shrunk to just 45 to 41 percent, according to a poll published by The Times on Friday.
The question, which will not be settled until Tuesday’s election – and may not be uncovered for days or weeks after the vote count – is whether Caruso’s momentum has plateaued or will push him into the mayor’s office.
“If you’re a Karen Bass person, you’re concerned that the race came out so close, but also grateful that you’re standing and still ahead after Caruso threw his biggest punches,” said Paul Mitchell, a Political data expert who was closely following the race. “If you’re a Caruso person, you still have hope because you have that one last weapon in your back pocket: a $13 million field campaign program that’s unprecedented.”
Bass would represent both a continuation of a liberal Town Hall orthodoxy and a historic departure. Like all but one mayor who has been elected in the past half-century, she is a democratically elected official who has served in the House of Representatives for the past 11 years. But she would also be the first woman and only the second black person to hold the top post at City Hall.
Caruso would mirror former Mayor Richard Riordan in coming from outside the ranks of political officeholders, while also claiming extensive City Hall experience as a former member of commissions overseeing the Department of Water and Power and the Los Angeles Police Department . A longtime Republican, Caruso became a Democrat shortly before declaring his candidacy for mayor.
Bass supporters see her route to City Hall as not dissimilar to that first taken by Tom Bradley in 1973: merging a base of white liberals, particularly on the West Side and in the heart of the city, with black voters, backed by solid performances among them Latinos and Asian Americans.
The congresswoman would welcome a virtual repeat of the June primary and hit the 50 percent victory threshold by only adding voters in the first round who went with two progressive colleagues, City Council member Kevin de León and community activist Gina Viola.
Caruso intends to upset that balance by effectively widening the electorate beyond ordinary voters — an effort his supporters believe is possible in part because of record-breaking spending on his campaign, which drew up to 400 people in the precinct Feld has brought, mainly to mobilize voters who do not always cast a vote.
These rare voters are critical to the candidate who developed Grove and Americana at Brand malls. The UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll, co-sponsored by The Times, showed that Caruso leads narrowly among registered voters but falls behind Bass when it comes to measuring those likely to vote.
The closing argument for 69-year-old Bass positions her as the new leader of the city’s Democratic political mainstream and portrays Caruso as a wealthy interloper trying to crash the party with his unprecedented $100 million in campaign spending. Speaking outside a Hollywood donut shop Thursday, Bass and a constituent agreed that they would soon deliver a message to Caruso: “You can’t buy this.”
Bass received President Biden’s endorsement and will run with Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday. Her latest TV spot shows her receiving a heartfelt phone call from ex-President Obama.
“Caruso has done something of a case study that so far has shown that political gravity can be skewed by $100 million,” said Bass campaign adviser Doug Herman. “Election day will be a test of whether political gravity can be fully defyed.”
Caruso spokesman Peter Ragone said the candidate has more than proven his alignment with Democratic Party values. “The race will come down to two Democrats. Voters must decide who will solve homelessness, crime and corruption,” Ragone said. “From our point of view, it’s pretty simple.”
Bass has emphasized her ability to bring diverse groups together, beginning with her work with Community Coalition, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting economic opportunity for black, Latino and others. The Times poll found that likely voters who place a high priority on building racial and ethnic coalitions favor Bass by more than 2 to 1.
In the campaign’s final debate last month, Caruso, 63, made it clear that he didn’t want to be pigeonholed as just another white candidate. When a participant in a Latina debate so described him, he replied, “I’m Italian.” She agreed, saying with a chuckle, “Italian American.” “Thanks,” said Caruso, “that’s Latin.”
Claiming Latino roots drew ridicule from some but acceptance from others, and recent polls have shown that Caruso has made significant strides among Latino voters, many of whom share his Catholic faith. In a previous Times poll, Bass led 35% to 29% among Latinos, but the new poll, which concluded Monday, showed Bass was losing ground, with just 31% of Latinos supporting her, while Caruso fell to 48% rose.
Sara Sadhwani, an assistant professor of politics at Pomona College, said Caruso has built the kind of serious outreach to Latino and Asian American voters that both communities have been demanding for years.
“I don’t think it was a coincidence that he said in the debate that he was not white, he was Latino,” Sadhwani said. “He argues that he understands their struggles to some extent, in part with his story about his own family’s immigrant roots. These are messages that go down very well with many voters.”
Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for Studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, said Caruso needs to create “two big what-ifs” — increase the Latino share of the total electorate from around 21% to where he was in June. to at least 25% or more, while increasing its stake in that constituency to 55%. (Latinos make up 37% of registered voters in the city.)
The “structural” reality both campaigns recognize is that LA is leaning heavily to the left, with 26% of likely voters in the most recent poll saying they were “strongly” liberal and 20% “somewhat” liberal.
Bass gets nearly three-quarters of the most liberal voters and nearly two-thirds of the more liberal voters. Caruso has an even bigger lead among the self-proclaimed Conservatives, but they are estimated to make up less than a quarter of the electorate.
“If you took two generic candidates — a Liberal Democratic candidate against a young Democratic white billionaire — it shouldn’t even be a close race. It could be 70-30 for the Liberal,” Guerra said. “But when you add significant voter dissatisfaction and then the $100 million Caruso has to push through, it gets tight.”
While slightly behind, Caruso has found some success with unrelenting television spots that portray himself as a problem-solving misfit and Bass as part of the city’s failed political class.
More voters in the latest poll said they believe Caruso would do the best job on two issues that have dominated the campaign — homelessness and crime. Bass convinced more voters that she would do better to address education, climate change and coalition building.
Some voters have recalled Riordan’s 1993 win over councilman Michael Woo as a possible harbinger of the 2022 race outcome. And the parallels are not difficult to see. Riordan was a 63-year-old Brentwood resident and a Republican when he beat Woo, a Democrat whose district included Hollywood. Riordan had amassed a fortune as a venture capitalist and served on the city’s Recreation and Parks Commission, though he never ran for office prior to his victory as mayor.
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Caruso is the same age, also lives in Brentwood, and is also running for office for the first time, having served on two commissions under three mayors.
But the makeup of the city and of those who vote has changed significantly since Riordan won the first of two terms. White Angelenos accounted for 72% of all voters in Riordan’s first election. Black voters at the time made up an estimated 12% of voters and Latinos only 10%, despite making up 39% of the population.
In 2022, whites are still contributing a multitude of votes in citywide elections; an estimated 48% of this year’s votes, according to the UC Berkeley poll. Latino voting power this year will easily more than double what it was in 1993, while black voting share has declined slightly and Asian American voters have also increased.
But Riordan’s Republican electoral base, which voted more than 90% for him in 1993, has declined from about 30% of LA voters to an estimated 14% this year. In another late-20th-century flip-flop, voting by mail used to be a stronghold for GOP voters, most of whom now vote in person because GOP supporters claim voting-by-mail is somehow fraudulent.
One final challenge for Republicans, who will account for an outsized portion of Tuesday’s personal voters: Rain is forecast for Los Angeles.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-11-06/bass-caruso-victory-paths Bass and Caruso have paths to winning the L.A. mayor’s race