News Analysis: How far can Caruso get in November?

Developer Rick Caruso’s appearance in Tuesday’s mayoral election showed that a significant number of Angelenos want immediate changes when it comes to homelessness and are undeterred by the vast fortunes of a billionaire who has never held elected office.

Caruso faces MP Karen Bass in the general election after the two candidates led the field. In the first results, Caruso led on Wednesday with 42% to 37% in front of Bass.

Both Democratic and Republican voters in Tuesday’s election backed the developer, a former Republican who entered the race just four months ago and is seeking big changes in the way City Hall is run. For example, he has proposed removing all land use decisions from the city council to prevent corruption.

Tuesday’s results showed that his campaign — which tapped into his own fortune and relied on an unprecedented $40 million in spending — found traction in the Democrat-dominated city, where voters are frustrated by the city’s persistent homelessness crisis, unaffordable Real estate prices and rising gun violence.

As Bass gathered with her supporters at the W Hollywood Hotel on election night, she described the mayoral election as “a battle for the soul of our city.”

Bass has touted her leadership and experience in state and national government, arguing that she will bring communities together to alleviate the homelessness crisis. She speaks nuancedly about the problem compared to Caruso’s simpler message.

At the same time, a win for Bass in November would make her a game-changer. She would be the first black woman — and the first woman — to hold that post.

Bass allies say Caruso – whose campaign message is “Caruso can” – offers unrealistic targets for hiring police officers and housing the homeless. Big promises helped make LA mayoral candidates walk by: Wendy Greuel was criticized in 2013 for not explaining how she would pay for the 2,000 new cops she was seeking.

Rep. Karen Bass speaks at her election night party on Tuesday.

Rep. Karen Bass speaks at her election night party on Tuesday.

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

At his election night party at the Grove, Caruso attacked Bass for comments she made in a Wall Street Journal story published this week. She told the publication that the city won’t solve the homeless problem in four years, but she hopes that “after that time, Angelenos, the homeless and the homeless, will see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

“Whoa,” Caruso told his followers, comments suggesting he’d do better than Bass. “Well, let me answer that. The light at the end of the tunnel is shining bright tonight.”

In the coming months, the two candidates will be closely scrutinized over their respective political agendas. Voter turnout is also historically higher in November.

Raphael J. Sonenshein, executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State LA, said November’s election will be “a whole new deck of cards.”

The topics could look different by autumn, said Sonenshein. Abortion could also be a relevant issue, as the Supreme Court is widely expected to issue a ruling limiting abortion rights in some parts of the country.

“National stuff will affect the runoff. I don’t think that’s being questioned,” he said. “We can’t yet imagine how different November will be.”

Caruso’s candidacy also encouraged some voters to back other candidates to prevent him from reaching 50% of the primaries and winning outright.

At Echo Park on Tuesday, voter Patrick Bailey said he supports Bass. There are more advanced candidates in the running, he said, but he doesn’t think they stand a chance of winning. “I just didn’t want Caruso to win,” said Bailey, 35, adding that he didn’t want to see a billionaire take office.

Paul Pulido, a 63-year-old security manager, cast a vote for Caruso in Lincoln Heights. Pulido, who said he was a registered Republican, was one of several voters who told the Times they were frustrated by homelessness. “I’m fed up,” he said.

The early results of the mayoral primary disagreed with the results of a recent UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll co-sponsored by The Times. This poll, conducted May 24-31, showed that Bass leads Caruso by 6 percentage points. The margin of error was 3.5 percentage points.

Voter support for a reorganization was also evident in the Los Angeles City Controller race, where newcomer Kenneth Mejia advanced to the runoff and meets Councilman Paul Koretz, a politician with three decades of experience in elected office.

Mejia has built a loyal following by posting TikTok videos and promotional messages about the city budget, which appear to have resonated with younger, progressive voters. First results showed that he led Koretz by more than 10 points.

At the same time, voters preferred familiar faces in some city council elections. In South Los Angeles, Councilor Curren Price was well ahead of the only opponent on the ballot, college administrator Dulce Vasquez. And in the San Fernando Valley, Council members Bob Blumenfield and Monica Rodriguez were easily re-elected.

Times contributors Jeong Park, Rachel Uranga, and Benjamin Oreskes contributed to this report. News Analysis: How far can Caruso get in November?

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