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Bass and Caruso have ways to win the race for mayor of Los Angeles

With two days to go before the mayoral race in Los Angeles, frontrunner Karen Bass is battling to hold on to her longtime advantage as the favorite of the city’s Liberal Democratic political base, while businessman Rick Caruso attempts to forge a new winning coalition, fueled largely by Latinos and San Fernando Valley residents.

Both Bass and Caruso now appear to be on their way to victory in a contest Bass had dominated for months, beating Caruso by 7 percentage points in the June primary and building to a 21-point lead at the end of the summer. Bass’ advantage had shrunk to just 45% to 41%, within the margin of error, in a poll published by The Times Friday.

The question that won’t be settled until Tuesday’s election — and potentially only revealed after days or weeks of vote counting — 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 worried that the race is so close, but also thankful that you’re up and still out front after Caruso threw his biggest punches,” said Paul Mitchell, a data expert. policies that has been closely following the race. “If you’re a Caruso person, you still have hope because you have this latest weapon in your back pocket: a $13 million field campaign program that is unprecedented.”

Bass would represent both a continuation of a liberal orthodoxy at City Hall and a historic departure. Like all but one of the mayors elected over the past half-century, she is an elected Democrat, serving the past 11 years in the House of Representatives. But she would also be the first woman and only the second black person to hold the top job at City Hall.

Caruso would mirror former mayor Richard Riordan in coming from outside the ranks of political incumbents, while claiming substantial experience at city hall, as a former member of the commissions that oversee the water department and of electricity and the Los Angeles Police Department. A lifelong Republican, Caruso became a Democrat just before declaring his candidacy for mayor.

Bass supporters see his path to City Hall as much like the one first charted by Tom Bradley in 1973: fusing a base of white liberals, particularly in the Westside and the heart of the city, with black voters, encouraged by strong showings among Latinos and Asian Americans.

The MP would welcome a virtual repeat of the June primary, reaching the 50% victory threshold simply by adding voters who went with two fellow progressives, city council member Kevin de León and community activist Gina Viola, to the first round.

Caruso intends to upset that balance by effectively expanding the electorate beyond the usual voters — an effort his supporters believe possible in part because of his campaign’s record spending, which has put up to 400 constituency walkers. on the ground, largely to galvanize voters who don’t always vote.

These infrequent voters are key to the candidate who developed the Grove and Americana into Brand malls. The poll by UC Berkeley’s Institute for Government Studies, co-sponsored by The Times, showed Caruso narrowly leads among registered voters but trails Bass when it comes to measuring those who are considered eligible to vote.

Bass, 69,’s closing argument positions her as the city’s new Democratic political mainstream leader and paints Caruso as a wealthy intruder, trying to frustrate the party with his unprecedented $100 million in campaign spending. . Speaking outside a Hollywood donut shop on Thursday, Bass and a constituent agreed they would soon deliver a message to Caruso: “You can’t buy this.”

Bass has received President Biden’s endorsement and will campaign with Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday. Her latest TV commercial shows her receiving a warm phone call from former President Obama.

“Caruso has done something like a case study, which has shown political gravity so far 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 defied.”

Caruso spokesman Peter Ragone said the candidate had more than proven he was aligned with Democratic Party values. “The race will come down to two Democrats. Voters must decide who is going to solve homelessness, crime and corruption,” Ragone said. “It’s quite simple from our point of view.”

Bass highlighted her ability to bring disparate groups together, beginning with her work with Community Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for economic opportunity for blacks, Latinos and others. The Times poll found that likely voters who place a high priority on building coalitions between racial and ethnic groups favor Bass by more than 2 to 1.

During the final campaign debate last month, Caruso, 63, made it clear he did not want to be cast as just another white candidate. When a Latina debate panelist described it that way, he replied, “I’m Italian.” She agreed, saying with a chuckle, “Italian-American.” “Thank you,” Caruso said, “that’s Latin.”

The claim of Latin roots has provoked mockery from some but acceptance from others, and recent polls have shown Caruso making substantial headway with Latino voters, many of whom share his Catholic faith. In a previous Times poll, Bass led among Latinos 35% to 29%, but the new survey, which ended Monday, showed Bass was losing ground, with just 31% of Latinos backing her. while Caruso jumped to 48%.

Sara Sadhwani, an assistant professor of politics at Pomona College, said Caruso had organized the kind of serious outreach to Latino and Asian voters that the two communities had demanded for years.

“I don’t think it was by accident that he said during the debate that he was not white, he was Latin,” Sadhwani said. “He argues that he somehow understands their struggles, in part with his story about his own family’s immigrant roots. These are messages that resonate very well with many voters. »

Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, said Caruso needed to succeed in “two big scenarios” – increasing Latin America’s share of the total electorate by around 21%, where she was in June, at least 25% or more, while pushing her share of this voting group to 55%. (Latinos make up 37% of registered voters in the city.)

The “structural” reality that both campaigns recognize is that LA leans heavily to the left, with 26% of likely voters in the recent poll declaring themselves “strongly” liberal and 20% “somewhat” liberal.

Bass gets nearly three-quarters of the most liberal voters and nearly two-thirds of the mostly liberal voters. Caruso has an even bigger lead among self-styled conservatives, but they are estimated to make up less than a quarter of the electorate.

“If you took two generic candidates – a Liberal Democrat candidate against a recent white Democratic billionaire – it shouldn’t even be a close race. It could be 70-30 for the Liberal,” Guerra said. “But if you add the substantial voter dissatisfaction and then the $100 million, Caruso has to make his case and it gets close.”

Though he seems to be trailing slightly, Caruso has found some success with relentless TV spots portraying himself as a problem-solving outsider and Bass as part of the city’s failing political class.

More voters said in the recent poll that they thought Caruso would do the best job on two issues that dominated the campaign — homelessness and crime. Bass persuaded more voters that she would do a better job on education, climate change and coalition building.

Some voters pointed to Riordan’s 1993 victory over councilman Michael Woo as a possible harbinger of the outcome of the 2022 race. And the parallels aren’t hard to see. Riordan was a 63-year-old Brentwood resident and a Republican when he defeated 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, although he never ran for office until his mayoral victory.

Caruso is the same age, also lives in Brentwood and, similarly, is running for office for the first time after serving on two commissions under three mayors.

But the makeup of the city and those who vote has changed markedly since Riordan won the first of two terms. White Angelenos made up 72% of all voters in Riordan’s first election. Black voters then represented about 12% of the electorate and Latinos only 10%, while they represented 39% of the population.

In 2022, white people still contribute a plurality of votes in municipal elections; about 48% of the vote this year, according to the UC Berkeley poll. Latinos’ voting power this year is easily expected to be more than double what it was in 1993, while black voting shares have fallen slightly and Asian American voters have also increased.

But Riordan’s Republican voter base, who voted more than 90% for him in 1993, has shrunk from around 30% of the Los Angeles electorate to around 14% this year. In another late 20th century about-face: Mail-in voting was once a stronghold for GOP voters, most of whom now prefer to vote in person, due to claims by GOP loyalists that mail-in voting is somehow fraudulent.

One final challenge for Republicans who will make up an outsized share of Tuesday’s in-person voters: Rain is forecast for Los Angeles.