A final UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll on the Los Angeles Mayoral race was released on Thursday, showing Rick Caruso now only trailing Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA) by four percentage points, well within the margin of error.
For much of the race following the initial June primary election, which Bass won 43% to 36% over Caruso, she had maintained a sizeable lead. Painting Caruso in a negative light due to his last-minute party switching from the GOP and his history as a developer, Bass continued adding to her lead during the summer, with a poll in late August showing her 12 points ahead of Caruso in polling. By early September, most outlets had predicted that she could easily coast to victory.
However, the Bass campaign cratered throughout September and October. With Caruso keeping up a large budget focused on advertising and reaching out to the Latino community, his message began sticking. A strong first debate performance by Caruso only solidified that new reputation, especially amongst undecided voters. As for Bass, she was rocked by allegations that she received a scholarship at USC in exchange for helping pass legislation in Washington, an unusual incident in which firearms were stolen from her house, and new questions over just how close she is to the Church of Scientology. With Bass failing to completely counter the barrage, a UC Berkeley poll released last showed that Bass had fallen to within 3 points of Caruso, but still with a noticeable 15 point lead amongst likely voters.
Shortly after that poll, another major scandal hit, this time the racist recording scandal. While neither candidate was involved in the scandal and both denounced Councilmembers Nury Martinez, Gil Cedillo, and Kevin de Leon in the third debate, it still hurt Bass a great deal. This was due to Martinez, who said the most incendiary comments in the recording and later resigned as a result, being one of Bass’ largest supporters. A mid-October poll soon found that Caruso had overtaken Bass in the polls amongst all voters, 39.8% to 36.8%, with 23.6% remaining undecided.
Thursday’s UC Berkeley IGS poll found that Caruso has kept up that momentum, with both candidates still within a margin-of-error in winning. According to the IGS poll, Bass is now only up 45% to 41% amongst likely voters, with 13% saying that they remain undecided. In particular, Bass has lost a lot of ground to Latino voters. Last month’s IGS poll had her leading with likely Latino voters 35% to Caruso’s 29%. However, this month, she is now down a whopping 17% amongst them, 48% to 31%, with unfavorability of Bass going from one-sixth of Latino voters in the October poll to one-third of Latino voters in the November poll. The mid-October poll, which had 43.7% of Latinos favoring Caruso over Bass’ 29.4%, confirm a sudden loss.
“It’s not hard to see why,” explained Pilar Reyes, a pollster who focuses on Latino communities in Southern California, to the Globe on Friday. “The community is still reeling from the recording scandal, and have seen de Leon and Cedillo and especially Martinez as betraying them. And because Bass is so closely associated with them, it has really changed things.”
“But more than that is Caruso. Yes, he is advertising a lot to Latinos, but he is not ignoring us. In fact, he has been visiting Latino neighborhoods and asking locals what needs to be done. And he has been keeping us in the conversation the whole time. The last Mayor who many here feel that did that was [former LA Mayor Antonio] Villaraigosa, and he was Latino. Also, many Latinos have been turning on Bass over abortion and crime. A lot of neighborhoods in LA that are majority Latino have a crime problem, and Caruso has been winning people over who swore hey would have voted for Bass when this all began.”
“Getting Latinos out to vote when the time comes has proved a challenge in the past, but he really has a lot of people excited, so many might come out now who otherwise wouldn’t have now.”
Caruso, Bass virtually tied in final days of race
Also helping Caruso are a greater number of undecided voters and registered Democrats now siding with him. While Caruso has always had rock-solid support amongst registered GOP and conservative voters in LA, the larger moderate, liberal, and registered Democrat demographics have tended to side with Bass. Hover, the November IGS poll shows growth, with undecided voters continuing their rush towards Caruso, and registered Democrats increasing their support of Caruso from 19% in last month’s IGS poll to 28% this month.
Finally, with 20% of voters saying they already voted, Caruso is currently up 49%-46%, with a majority of people planning to vote on election day saying that they plan to vote for him. However, Bass is leading 50%-33% for voters who plan to mail or drop off their ballots in the coming days. All of this points to yet another major toss-up election this year in California.
“Caruso’s comeback has been remarkable,” explained Jan Ives, a Washington-based local election analyst, to the Globe on Friday. “He did get some luck along the way with all those scandals, but he has kept up the pace too. Bass, for her part, has not given up and has fought hard too. They both really want this.”
“The scandal with the Councilmembers really proved to be pivotal though. Those earlier scandals reversed course on the race, but the recording scandal was the one that painted Caruso in a new light. Before, he was how the Bass campaign portrayed him, as a developer who had rushed into politics and didn’t know how to lead. His calm message following the scandal, and not a fire and brimstone sort of speech that others might have done, had people looking at him now as a real leader.”
“And I think that’s where his true secret was this campaign. The Bass campaign didn’t expect Latino voters to turn, didn’t expect him to be such a good debater, didn’t expect him to be calm during a crisis, and didn’t expect him having such a comprehensive plan on issues such as homelessness. They underestimated him. And now look where we are because of it. He’s not only closer than they ever thought possible, but he may win this now. No one ever thought this was possible, but this is proving to be a likely red wave year, especially in California. We’ve been seeing the signs, what with OC seats flipping back in 2020 and voters choosing to recall people this year like the San Francisco DA [Chesa Boudin]. Even if the final results are close, it’s another step. If he wins, well, it’s a giant step.”
Election day is on Tuesday, November 8th.
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