A new poll by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies (IGS) conducted in late September and released on Monday finds that Los Angeles Mayoral candidate and real estate developer Rick Caruso has made a startling comeback and is now only three point behind Congresswoman and fellow candidate Karen Bass (D-CA).
The poll shows that Bass is still leading Caruso 34% to 31%, with a large percentage of 31% still undecided. While Caruso is still down, the poll highlights how much ground he has retaken since a late August poll that showed Caruso being down 12 points. Demographic-wise, Caruso made gains across the board, taking away parts of Bass’ black and white bases, as well as bringing the Latino vote to about even and now coming out ahead amongst Asians.
Advertisements about Caruso’s past have also seemed to have won over voters. While they still see Bass as more experienced (with 49% of voters saying that Bass is more experienced compared to Caruso’s 38%), and Honest (37% favorable compared to 31% favorable for Caruso), Caruso has now come out on top in some categories. Voters now see Caruso as more of a stronger leader than Bass (Caruso getting 42% favorable compared to Bass getting 41%) as well as more fiscally responsible (Caruso 42% favorable to Bass being 34% favorable).
The shift throughout September can be attributed to several things, but many observers have pointed out a big 4:
- allegations against Bass in the latest USC bribery scandal,
- an unusual firearms robbery in her home,
- Caruso’s strong performance at the Mayoral debate on issues such as homelessness and crime, and
- a recent ad campaign showing Bass at a Scientology event speaking favorably about the religion.
“Bass woke up the sleeping dragon that is Caruso last month,” explained explained Jan Ives, a Washington-based local election analyst, to the Globe on Monday. “He had some help, what with the USC scandal in which she allegedly got a scholarship for votes on legislation and that home robbery, but Caruso also showed that he could hold his own. Caruso did far better than expected during the debate, and Caruso keeps bringing out ads. People are tired about hearing of Caruso being a “big bad real estate developer”. But you know what voters largely weren’t aware of? Bass giving that speech at Scientology headquarters.
“Caruso essentially put down an Uno reverse card and Bass hasn’t been able to counter it.”
Problems for Bass
Many voters have noted that Bass’ words are ringing more hollow and are tired of her brushing off questions and allegations.
“Say what you will about Caruso, but he isn’t running away from these questions,” explained Tyrell Lewis, a first-time , high school voter who, until a few weeks ago, had been a Bass supporter. “I really thought Bass was going to be my candidate, but now I just don’t know. A lot of people my age are starting to have second thoughts. Most don’t seem to care and some are only voting because they want to see a black mayor. But this is getting weird.”
Observers specifically pointed to an exchange Caruso and Bass recently had about the stolen guns from her home.
“Why doesn’t she tell us what kind of guns they were?” said Caruso last month. “We got two more guns on the street now. We have the highest level of gun violence. Why doesn’t she show us the box that they were kept in? She says it was pursuant to L.A. city law, well, prove it. You’ve got an obligation. You’re running for mayor.”
In response, Bass countered with “I think that Caruso knows better than this, and to be someone who had my house robbed and to have my opponent turn it on me as though I am the criminal, is kind of pathetic.”
Ives continued by noting that “That is a crystal example of the September change. Caruso is acting like the adult, the Mayor there, and simply questioning Bass on something that happened. And voters saw her response as something childish and coming off with far-flung conclusions. Is it any wonder that he has closed the gap?”
The Scientology ad
Perhaps most damning to Bass’ campaign in recent weeks however is the infamous Scientology ad. In the ad, it shows Bass speaking at the opening of a new Scientology center in 2010. In a Politico article, Bass tried to say that she had to go to the event because it was in her district, but soon corrected herself by saying it wasn’t in her district, throwing the reason why she was there up in the air.
“The Church of Scientology, I know, has made a difference, because your creed is a universal creed and one that speaks to all people everywhere,” said Bass in 2010. “That is why the words are exciting of your founder L. Ron Hubbard, in the creed of the Church of Scientology: That all people of whatever race, color or creed are created with equal rights.”
Later on, Bass explained that she did not know of what Scientology did and focused instead of being with another group of different beliefs.
“Back in 2010, I attended the event knowing I was going to address a group of people with beliefs very different than my own, and spoke briefly about things I think most of us agree with, and on those things — respect for different views, equality, and fighting oppression — my views have not changed,” explained Bass. “Since then, published first-hand accounts in books, interviews and documentaries have exposed this group.”
While the story soon fizzled out, it was counted as a negative against her when then Candidate Joe Biden was considering her for Vice President, and a few years later, counted against her again in the Mayoral election poll. Caruso’s “Church of Karen” ad in only a few short days has cost her significant support, especially amongst her white and younger bases.
“We already know what we’re getting with Caruso,” added Laurie Schaeffer, a former Bass supporter who helps fellow 18-to-25-year-olds to register to vote, to the Globe on Monday. “But Bass with taking that USC scholarship as a bribe and now supporting Scientology? It’s incredibly disappointing. I really want a female mayor of LA. That would be awesome. But all these things that come out are making me, and so many others, question supporting her. To us, it feels like right now ‘Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.'”
While Bass has not denied speaking favorably about Scientology in the past, she has come out strongly against the ad, saying that she was never associated with the Church.
“It’s ridiculous to associate me with the Church of Scientology,” countered Bass last week. “I am a Baptist. My minister is Norman Johnson and I have never ever been affiliated with scientology and absolutely condemn their practices.”
However, observers noted that, going into the final weeks of the race, the continued stories against Bass have not been completely cycled out of the news as a result.
“The big part of the poll I want to focus on is not Caruso roaring back, but to the undecided voters,” added Ives. “It’s at 31%. It was only at 24% in August. So not only has Caruso gone up, but the people unsure of Bass and Caruso has gone up too, making all those wild card votes. This is what we should watch, because, based on everything that happened this month, a lot of those voters are disaffected Bass voters nd voters who would have sided with Bass but are now second guessing them.”
“Caruso needs to keep hammering Bass on a growing list of scandals and issues that she is holding and try and break her at next weeks debate. Bass needs to confront all these head on and trying to get an actual response in instead of deny and run. That’s hurting her. She needs to give a heart to heart on this to the voters. She needs her own Checkers speech right about now. Her campaign is still insisting that nothing is wrong, but, ok. There is these meme with a dog sipping coffee on a house that’s on fire. Instead of running out or trying to put the fire out, it’s just sitting there saying “Everything is fine”. That is the Bass campaign right now. And they need to act fast.”
The next LA Mayoral debate is on October 11th. Election day is on Tuesday, November 8th.
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