Here’s what to expect with 5 more months of Caruso-Bass

An avalanche of celebratory confetti rained down on revelers at the Grove late Tuesday night as Rick Caruso, the mall’s billionaire developer, maintained a small lead over Rep. Karen Bass in the Los Angeles mayoral race. But the road from an early return to elementary school to a win in November has been far from a straight shot for either candidate.

The next five months of campaigning will likely be the partisan schism between Caruso, a Republican-turned-centrist Democrat best known for her business dealings, and Bass, who began her career as an activist outside the system and became a more pragmatic progressive , reinforce two decades in elected office.

Before the primary, both candidates spent a lot of time introducing themselves to voters — and direct attacks on each other increased as Election Day drew near. The road to the runoff will now be a head-to-head battle, with both candidates struggling to hold their own against each other.

There will be more television commercials, attacks on Caruso’s Republican connections, roasting Bass’ elected term as more of the same, and efforts to speak to voters in different ways about homelessness and crime.

Locating charged national debates about abortion and gun control could also play a role in shaping narratives for the upcoming Nov. 8 general election.

On Wednesday night, Caruso held a five-point lead in the contest to lead the country’s second-biggest city, which defeated Bass 42% to 37%. But those percentages could shift.

More than 400,000 ballots remain to be tabulated across the county and an unknown additional number of absentee ballots are still in transit. (Bots postmarked on Election Day will be accepted through Tuesday.)

Still, Caruso called his Tuesday night a “victory story,” saying frustrated LA voters had sent a clear message that they wanted change.

In his address to supporters at the Grove, Caruso alternated between extremes of dark and light, contrasting romantic tropes about Los Angeles as a city where dreams can come true with strong imagery of homelessness and crime.

“We have the power to change the direction of Los Angeles,” Caruso told his supporters Tuesday night. “And so we vote.”

After basking in the admiration of supporters including former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Rev. Jesse Jackson, and receiving big hugs from friends and family, Bass told reporters Tuesday night that her campaign was ready for the fight to come. They would take stock of where they are underperforming and increase efforts to attract voters in those areas.

“We have to do the analysis and to be clear, wherever we have a shortcoming, we’re going to go there first to meet with those constituents to find out their problems,” she said.

Bass was driven by the opportunity to “mobilize the collective power of our people — a city powered by the coalition, working toward progress, driven by unity, and focused on progress.”

A path to victory for any candidate will be to court the supporters of other candidates in the once-crowded field. Councilman Kevin de León and activist Gina Viola stayed in the running for the primaries and together have collected nearly 13% of the vote so far.

De León said in a statement that he would ultimately support the candidate “who has the strongest plan to build pathways into the middle class for the workers who make this city run.”

Councilor Marqueece Harris-Dawson, a staunch Bass supporter, argued why De León voters might naturally switch to Bass. The ideals of the two candidates “were more than similar,” he said, citing their similar plans for homelessness and crime. But the calculation can be more complicated.

Viola said Wednesday that she would be speaking to her supporters and those who supported her about the possibility of supporting Bass.

“I think she will need our base. She’s going to need the support of the movement,” Viola said, noting that some of the congressmen’s positions still gave her food for thought — particularly Bass’s stated desire that there should be laws governing where the homeless can camp in the city.

With a lead that could potentially shrink as more votes come in, the Caruso campaign had cause for excitement. Her view of the race over the past few days had always differed greatly from the most recent Times polls, in which Bass had led by a similar margin just days earlier.

But more importantly, the results showed that Caruso had struck a message and a media strategy that resonated with the small percentage of Angelenos who voted. The $40 million poured into this campaign — much of it spent on television advertising and mailings — had the effect of introducing Caruso’s face and priorities to a broad spectrum of the electorate.

At the Baldwin Hills mall, where Bass voted Tuesday, some shoppers said they were unaware of the day’s pick. At a TJ Maxx store, most shoppers who spoke to The Times about their choice said they would vote for Caruso.

“What’s the guy’s name? The good guy?” Luis Martínez, a south LA warehouse worker, asked his pregnant wife as she pushed a cart down the aisle. “I vote for him.”

Neither Martínez nor his wife Barbara could remember the candidate’s name, which had become a familiar fixture on their screens, but both thought he could improve their community and fight violence. Shootings are commonplace in their south LA neighborhood, they said.

Still, it was clear that Caruso’s ad ban was working with certain voters like Martinez or the mostly working-class Latinos in Pacoima, where a Caruso recruiter spent the day before the election knocking on doors. Caruso has done well in polls among Latinos, outperforming both Bass and De Leon in some instances.

One resident, Marta Ochoa, told the recruiter about her concerns about the crime rate and her concern for the safety of her 15-year-old daughter.

“I really want a change,” she said. “I voted for other candidates before and nothing has changed.”

Paul Mitchell, a political data expert who has been following the race closely, said the uncounted votes could still mean Tuesday’s results close – and Caruso’s lead is shrinking.

The question for the fall, he said, is whether November’s larger electorate will focus more on hot national issues like abortion or the frustrations over homelessness and public safety that have dominated the race so far. These kinds of broader shifts in political sentiment are, to some extent, beyond the control of any single candidate.

Mitchell thought an election dominated by local frustration would be favorable to Caruso. But “there will be a referendum in the November elections [former President] Trump and the Roe vs. Wade decision and those kinds of core progressive views, then maybe Caruso is swimming upstream,” Mitchell said.

Councilor Joe Buscaino, a former opponent turned ardent supporter of Caruso, saw the landscape differently.

“Karen and her team are going to make this a partisan race and voters will be over it,” said the San Pedro-based former police officer. “My advice to Rick is to let people know that a pothole isn’t a D or R issue. A 911 call is not a D or R issue. Cleaning our streets is not a D or R issue.” Here’s what to expect with 5 more months of Caruso-Bass

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