Votes are still being cast in Los Angeles County, but one thing is certain: The battle for the nation’s second-largest city will be decided in a runoff election in November between longtime Democratic Rep. Karen Bass and billionaire developer Rick Caruso.
Despite recent polls shows Bass with a slight lead over Caruso, the votes counted so far leave her slightly behind (37 percent against Caruso’s 42 percent parts from Wednesday afternoon) — appears to share the preference of progressive and activist voters with other left-wing Democrats in the mayoral vote.
That has led to a closer race than expected, and not necessarily the outcome Caruso supporters might have wanted: Candidates can win the mayoral office outright if they get a majority of the vote in the primaries. And while he may leave the primaries as the candidate with the most votes, as progressive voters, party activists and community organizers can rally behind Bass to focus their attention on just one candidate, Caruso faces an uphill battle to win voters who are more susceptible are for Bass’ liberal track record and platform.
Who is Rick Caruso?
Caruso’s strength in the primary is still shocking, given how long Bass was seen as the frontrunner in the race. Until Caruso announced his candidacy on the last day he could submit to be featured on the ballot, Bass was the clear favorite to win the election. But Caruso’s support grew rapidly in the final weeks of the campaign.
That wave of support is due to both its reach and the issues that motivated its sadly low voter count: crime, public safety perceptions, homelessness and affordability.
Caruso is a Los Angeles institution born to a family that first settled in the city in the 1920s. He is known for his massive shopping center developments, which combine high-end retail with movie theaters, various restaurants and residences. He hosted his first evening return party at one of these malls—the Grove in Central LA’s Fairfax district—and has deep ties to a number of schools in the city as an alumnus, donor, and parent, including the University of Southern California.
Caruso is well known in the city’s business scene and has a conservative political history. He was a Republican long before he became independent, and just before the mayoral race, a Democrat. And he’s dabbled in politics before, serving in the city’s bureaucracy, on the board of the Department of Water and Power, and as president of the LA Police Commission.
Overall, he is a respected businessman and fairly well-known figure in wealthy LA circles. USCs student newspaper may have had the apt description of how many elites in Los Angeles see him: “Caruso is a modern day Willy Wonka…and everyone wants a piece of the chocolate bar.”
How Caruso turned the primary into a two-person race
Caruso amassed enormous personal wealth that he used in these primaries. He has spent more than $35 million of his fortune, $24 million of which was in digital, radio and television advertising that flooded the city’s expensive media market and flooded Bass’ expenses† Based on current vote totals, Caruso spent nearly $300 per voter he won, a huge amount of money that overwhelms the dollar amount usually spent per vote in a presidential election. for example†
But those releases could have boosted his brand awareness among color tuners, where he appears to have had some success. In the latest poll before Election Day, the Los Angeles Times reported that early in the race, Caruso had consolidated the support of conservative white Angelenos and built support among Latino and black men after a while. Bass, on the other hand, fared better among loyal Democrats, white liberals, and black and Latina women. The parts of the city that saw the highest turnout were the whiter and more affluent hill and coastal communities, not the black and brown core of the city.
Bass may have suffered a bit from that low turnout among minorities. A traditional explanation for the low turnout in Los Angeles is the supremacy Democrats have in elections — because one party is expected to win, some voters see no reason to vote in non-competitive elections. There are also structural drawbacks, such as access to reliable news sources, language barriers, and transportation to polling stations, which may have made minority voters less aware of the subjects on the list and their willingness to vote, while wealthier, more conservative voters, and whites voters were more viscerally motivated by the perception of declining public safety.
Bass’ credentials in Washington could also have damaged her efforts to win over voters dissatisfied with the local and national Democratic establishment. Bass, a longtime congressman, former member of the state assembly and community organizer in South Los Angeles, has had to battle the image that she’s simply more of the same kind of Democratic insider who’s run the city for the past two decades (the so-called-out Mayor Eric Garcetti succeeded two-term mayor Antonio Villaraigosa).
She also angered some progressives for her willingness to take a more moderate tone against crime and policing – she refused to punish the police (she called it “probably one of the worst slogans ever” in 2020) and proposes hiring more police officers to restore full strength authorized by the city (albeit 1,000 fewer officers than Caruso has promised to hire if he wins).
Polls in the run-up to the election showed that homelessness and public safety were paramount for many voters, and voters supported get bigger of the Los Angeles Police Department. Caruso responded to this in his ads and campaign mailerswhere he set himself up as an outsider and a disruptor.
After an election with very low turnout, both candidates, but especially Bass, need to energize voters for the November election. Voters on Tuesday raised concerns about crime, homelessness and the rising cost of living in California, and Although both Bass and Caruso have indicated that public safety will be their top priority, they have five months to argue their case with a city that has a small increase in property crimes and murders – and a lot of media coverage of brutal crimes.
For Caruso, that means expanding his support base beyond his current coalition by convincing voters that he isn’t For real a Republican, but a different kind of Democrat in Los Angeles; and for Bass, consolidating progressives while undermining Caruso’s support among moderates and men of color. Both have a lot of work to do.