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Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass (Photo: Joseph Sohm, Shutterstock)

From A ‘For Sure Victory’ To ‘The Tightest LA Mayoral Race In Years’

Despite having commanding leads at different time, Bass now finds herself neck to neck with Caruso

By Evan Symon, October 25, 2022 2:30 am

For Karen Bass and her supporters, the 2022 Los Angeles Mayoral race wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Back in September 2021, when Bass first entered the race 14 months ahead of election day, she came in knowing that there wouldn’t be many other strong candidates. Councilmen Kevin de Leon and Joe Buscaino, along with LA City Attorney Mike Feuer also declared, but they didn’t have nearly as much support or name recognition. The closest, de Leon, was 4 times as many points behind Bass in a February poll, with Bass having a commanding 32% lead with de Leon at 8%. Had those two gone in, Bass would already be doing her victory lap, as de Leon, thanks to the racist recording scandal, now has pretty much all of LA and President Joe Biden demanding his resignation.

But in February, shortly after that poll was taken in February, something happened in LA. Billionaire real estate developer Rick Caruso entered the race. While he didn’t have as much political experience, having served only on the LA Police Commission, compared to Bass being a Congresswoman and state Assemblywoman, he did come in with different ideas from the other candidates, a surprisingly human touch, detailed plans, and money to self fund his ad campaign.

Like George H.W. Bush in 1992, Al Gore in 2000, and Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primaries and the 2016 Presidential race, what was widely considered to be a sure thing was suddenly rocked. In March, Bass was losing ground, and in April Caruso finally topped her in polls for the upcoming June primary. The Bass campaign hurriedly gave a push in late Spring and wound up coming in first, but considering where she started, it was too close for comfort. Bass got 43.1% in the primary, but Caruso got 36%. The next closest, de Leon, got in at just under 8%.

While Caruso put out many ads going into the summer, targeting Latinos especially, Bass held more rallies, and garnered many endorsements. Hillary Clinton, President Biden, and Vice President Kamala Harris were but a few who came out to support her. Along with many starting to doubt Caruso due to Bass hammering in his party switch in 2021 from Republican to Democrat,  Bass soon retook her commanding lead, and was up over Caruso by 12 points in late August. That “sure thing” feeling the Bass team had at the beginning of the year was back, and it would have to take a cascade of blunders and a renewed effort by Caruso to topple her at that point.

Bass and Caruso – neck to neck

In September Bass underwent a cascade of blunder while Caruso led a renewed effort. That month, prosecutors in a USC bribery scandal alleged Bass willingly took a $95,000 Master’s Degree scholarship in 2011 in exchange for Bass helping pass legislation that would give more funds to private universities like USC for social work programs. Adding to that, Bass also dodged questions around an incident where two handguns were stolen from her home. This pressure, along with a poor debate performance late that month and Caruso showing more and more campaign finesse, led to a surprising poll in early October showing Caruso was now only three points behind in the race.

Los Angeles Mayoral Candidate Rick Caruso speaks in a campaign event. Sept. 15, 2022. (Photo: Ringo Chiu, Shutterstock)

Team Bass panicked, and soon was hit by another blow. The LA City Council racist recording scandal came out, with  Council President Nury Martinez, and one of Bass’ largest supporters, resigning due to racist things she said against many different groups, including African Americans. The third debate was lauded for being more civil following the scandal. And while Bass was praised for her comments following the incident, Caruso was also highly praised for calling for the 4 people in the tape to resign first. His message of calm also turned many heads who didn’t expect for him to act like a Mayor should act in a crisis.

Last Tuesday, a new poll showed that Caruso finally overtook Bass once again only a few weeks before election day and at a time when many were voting with at-home ballots. Since then, Caruso has been seen around town giving talks and going on walks throughout many neighborhoods in La, including, for the first time, going into strongly Bass-supporter neighborhoods. Meanwhile, the Bass campaign has been sending out e-mails for donations and support like crazy, even asking supporters to do last minute door knockings to try and get every vote possible due to Caruso’s late surge.

While final polls are due soon, and should give a clearer view on if Caruso has enough to stay on top or if Bass can get back ahead in time, Bass has led a renewed attack campaign in recent days, on Monday going after his homeless plans being a “con” and going after the old dead-horse – his voting record.

“We cannot let Rick Caruso con the voters of Los Angeles on homelessness, just like he changed his party registration three weeks before filing to run for mayor, just like his ads he’s running to cover up his lifetime as an anti-choice Republican,” Bass said early on Monday.

Meanwhile, Caruso’s new calmer demeaner continued to play out. While in the past he would have gone after those comments more combatively, Caruso instead to use a more Mayoral-like response.

“Shame on her for using that kind of language,” Caruso retorted Monday. “Let’s just be dignified. It’s a competitive race. Let’s get our message out there and talk about our track record and I’m very proud of mine.”

With two weeks left, what was twice such a sure thing for Bass that she was probably planning on measuring the Mayor’s office for drapes has turned into a real race. Caruso does have money for ads, and has outspent her $81 million to $11 million, but Bass also did a lot of this to herself. As other “for sure” races have shown, blaming the other guy and reverting to more caustic language just doesn’t work. Caruso is close for a reason, and even if Bass does win, after everything that happened, it won’t seem like a victory.

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Evan Symon
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7 thoughts on “From A ‘For Sure Victory’ To ‘The Tightest LA Mayoral Race In Years’

  1. Not to worry Evan, the county clerk has this in the bag for Karen, just like she/he took care of the Gascon problem a few months ago.
    …………but thanks Rick for raising public awareness!

  2. Sensible City of L.A. voters, PLEASE Vote and Get Out the Vote for Rick Caruso for Mayor. Overwhelm any attempt to cheat with a huge turnout. There is so much at stake. Amazing changes to come that will be clear to everyone and positive for EVERY L.A. resident if Caruso becomes Mayor of the once-great City of Los Angeles.

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