Latinos Liked Caruso in the Primary. Can Bass Catch Up?

As Los Angeles residents decide who will be their mayor, Rep. Karen Bass is trying to build on her seven-point advantage in the primary over billionaire developer Rick Caruso.

But in precincts with large Latino populations, the primary results were different — Caruso generally came out ahead of Bass, according to a Times analysis.

While Latino voters in L.A. have historically leaned progressive, they can have a conservative streak on some issues, including policing. Party affiliation is relatively weak among Latinos, with some identifying as Democrats but willing to cross over for candidates who speak to them on issues, experts said.

With homelessness, crime and affordable housing on voters’ minds this year, Caruso’s pitch that he is an outsider who can fix these problems appealed to Latino voters in the primary and could do so head-to-head with the more liberal Bass.

But turnout is expected to be much higher in the November general election. City Councilman Kevin de León, the only major Latino candidate, had strong support among Latinos in the primary, and it is unclear where those voters will end up.

Latinos, who make up more than a third of the city’s electorate, could still swing for Bass, experts said.

As he did during the primary, Caruso — a former Republican who is now a Democrat — will probably use his fortune to saturate the airwaves, including Spanish-language media.

Bass (D-Los Angeles), a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus with a strong base in South L.A., will rely on endorsements from Latino leaders, as well as one-on-one meetings and intimate gatherings at homes, to make up for what she lacks in money.

“Those TV ads are effective, but they’re superficial,” said Matt A. Barreto, a researcher with the UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Institute. “Community, door-to-door contact is way more effective.”

In L.A. precincts with populations that are at least 80% Latino, Caruso got 34% of the vote in the primary, and Bass got 27%, according to the Times analysis.

De León captured 8% of the overall vote but 24% in those precincts, the analysis showed. He was the top finisher in Boyle Heights, which he represents on the City Council, and received strong support in South-Central, where votes were split almost evenly among the top three candidates.

De León, who has not endorsed Bass or Caruso, has said he will support whichever candidate “has the strongest plan to build pathways into the middle class for the workers who make this city go.”

Boyle Heights and South-Central are areas where a majority of residents earn less than the city’s median income and are renters.

In the San Fernando Valley, voters overall supported Caruso; the same was true in areas with large Latino populations such as Sylmar and Pacoima.

A UCLA statistical analysis also showed Caruso as the top finisher among Latinos, with 34% of the vote. De León finished second, with 29%, and Bass had 20%.

At 17%, voter turnout in the Latino-heavy precincts analyzed by The Times was much lower than the overall turnout of 30%. Some see that as an indication that candidates aren’t doing enough to connect with Latino voters.

Lack of outreach leads Latinos to feel disillusioned or disconnected with political leaders and their campaigns, according to Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Assn. of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund.

Political analysts and voting advocates have urged the candidates to engage with Latinos by meeting them face to face in their communities. Bass will need to increase her name recognition outside of South L.A., while Caruso will need to make his message to voters more substantive, experts said.

Bass said her campaign has created a “Latino affinity group” to organize in-person events. She leans on her decades of experience working with Latino activists in South L.A. as a founder of Community Coalition, which attempts to address the root causes of poverty, crime and violence. She has secured endorsements from key Latino politicians, as well as the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, or CHIRLA.

Besides advertising on Spanish-language television, Caruso’s campaign has conducted outreach in Latino neighborhoods such as Pacoima and Boyle Heights, according to Juan Rodriguez, a political consultant for the candidate.

“That the vote broke down the way it did makes us feel really good about the potential of November,” Rodriguez said.

Sean Rivas, chair of the Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley, which previously endorsed De León, believes Caruso’s advertisements have made an impact.

“Rick came out swinging. He spent so much money on TV advertising during the peak times, the [telenovela] times and during the day as well,” Rivas said, adding that it “made an impact because he got ahead of the talking points,” including homelessness.

Angelica Salas, executive director of CHIRLA, said she doesn’t think “slick ads” in Spanish are enough to win over Latino voters.

“I want all candidates to understand we are sophisticated voters,” she said. “We’re people who are paying attention.”

While Caruso’s wealth turns off some voters, it can be a plus for Latinos who see their own journeys reflected in his. Maria S. Salinas, president and chief executive of the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce, which has endorsed Caruso, said his immigrant and business background, as well as his philanthropy, appeals to Latinos.

“Many Latinos start their own businesses, because that’s the way for economic opportunity,” she said. “Mr. Caruso is an entrepreneur himself. I know he’s a person that is definitely very connected to philanthropic work throughout the city, and he is a man of faith. Those are all qualities that I think appeal to everyday Latinos.”

Maggie Darett-Quiroz sees her immigrant family’s story in Caruso, who is of Italian descent, and doesn’t mind that he has spent millions of his own money on his campaign.

“He’s willing to make a change, and right now, we need the change,” said Darett-Quiroz, who voted for Caruso and is commissioner of Empower L.A., the city department that oversees neighborhood councils. “We can’t stick to the plan anymore.”

Roselia Melgoza, a 73-year-old Boyle Heights resident, said she didn’t vote in the primary and doesn’t know much about the candidates. But she is leaning toward voting for Caruso in November. From friends, family and TV ads, she has gleaned that he comes from an immigrant family that initially settled in Boyle Heights and that he has given to charities. She also thinks he might use his wealth to help the city.

She hasn’t heard anything about Bass.

“One listens to the people who surround you,” she said.

Mireira Moran, a 32-year-old Pacoima resident and member of the neighborhood council, said she supports Bass because of the congresswoman’s experience and political values. But Moran is in the minority, in her neighborhood and on the council. She said people are looking for something different — someone who is not a politician.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Runoff in the Cards for Bass, Caruso

Days before Los Angeles’ first open mayoral primary in nearly a decade, Rep. Karen Bass and Rick Caruso, the billionaire developer, appear headed toward a November runoff, with Bass building a small edge as the campaign moves toward a close.

Bass (D-Los Angeles) is benefiting from strong support among women, who make up a majority of the voters likely to cast ballots, and white liberals, according to a new UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll, co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times.

Bass has support of 38% of likely voters in the poll, which was conducted May 24-31. Caruso, who has bombarded Los Angeles’ airwaves with millions of dollars of advertising, has 32%.

With 15% of likely voters saying they were still undecided, either of the two could still come out on top in the primary, but it’s unlikely either candidate would exceed 50% of the vote to win outright and avoid a November runoff.

The near certainty of Bass and Caruso advancing to the runoff comes after a frantic few weeks of campaigning across the city which has included increasingly personal and partisan attacks being slung from each camp. Caruso supporters have attacked Bass’ attendance record in Congress, while Bass backers have talked nonstop about the businessman previously being registered as a Republican and his previous ties to politicians who oppose abortion.

Since Caruso announced his candidacy in February, Times polling has found the contest to be largely a two-person race, with Caruso and Bass appealing to contrasting bases of support.

Concern about rising crime has provided the driving force for Caruso’s campaign, which early on drew strong support from more conservative Angelenos, especially white voters. Over time, however, he has also won over a growing number of Latino and Black male voters, the poll found.

Bass’ support was slower to consolidate. Since the last Berkeley IGS poll in April, however, previously undecided voters have made up their minds and some other candidates have dropped out of the race.

As that happened, Bass gained ground with the biggest segments of the city’s electorate — her fellow Democrats, liberals and women. She has also maintained a strong lead among Black women.

“It still looks fairly close, though maybe Bass has solidified her position a little bit,” said Eric Schickler, a Berkeley political science professor who is the IGS co-director.

“Caruso is doing a lot better with Republican, more conservative voters and voters more concerned about crime. Bass is doing better with the more traditional Democratic constituency.”

White voters who identify as liberals make up nearly a third of the likely electorate for the primary, the poll found. In April, Bass was ahead of Caruso 40% to 15% with them, and 34% were undecided. Now just 13% of them remain undecided, and her lead with that group has swelled to 66%-8%.

The race features a large gender gap which works to Bass’ advantage. She leads Caruso by 19 points among women, who make up slightly more than half of likely voters, the poll found. He leads by 8 points among men.

But the poll also found some areas in which Caruso has made striking gains. Bass, one of two Black members of the Los Angeles delegation in Congress, had been expected to run away with Black voters. But Caruso has been able to cut into her support by gaining ground among Black men.

Black women favor Bass by a significant margin, but Caruso appears to be at least even and perhaps ahead among Black men. The poll can’t say for sure because margins of error get larger with small subgroups of voters.

Similarly, Caruso has a lead among Latino men, while Bass appears to lead among Latina voters.

A third candidate — Councilman Kevin de León — who previously served in the state Senate and challenged Sen. Dianne Feinstein for her seat in 2018, had hoped to do well among Latino voters. His district is predominantly Latino, and his campaign has been grounded in his personal story of growing up poor.

But De León’s campaign has not gained traction. He’s raised and spent far less money, and the poll found him in third place with 6%, which is where he was in April.

The fact that he’s drawing support from just 1 in 5 Latino likely voters will be a disappointment for De León, said USC professor Manuel Pastor.

“Caruso has spent a lot of money on television, and that’s a major way that Latinos get their political information, and he also spent a lot of money on Spanish-language TV,” Pastor said.

“It’s not surprising to me that Caruso is doing well here,” Pastor said. “What we might be seeing is that being a businessperson, which can lead to some suspicion on the part of progressives, doesn’t cause as much suspicion it seems with Latino voters.”

Rounding out the field, activist Gina Viola has 2% support, as does Alex Gruenenfelder Smith, a 20-year-old Echo Park Neighborhood Council member. Both are running grass-roots campaigns aimed at the city’s progressive voters.

Two other candidates, City Atty. Mike Feuer and Councilman Joe Buscaino, dropped out of the race last month, with Feuer backing Bass and Buscaino endorsing Caruso.

This is the third poll of the mayoral race that The Times conducted in partnership with the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies in advance of the primary on Tuesday. The poll was conducted online in English and Spanish, among 1,204 registered voters in the city of Los Angeles. Based on prior voting history and stated interest in the June election, the poll identified 816 voters as likely to cast ballots.

The margin of sampling error for the likely voter sample is approximately 3.5% in either direction. A full description of the poll methodology is available on the IGS website.

Among the broader universe of registered voters, the race is within the margin of error between Bass at 25% and Caruso at 23% with 35% of voters undecided.

Looking ahead at a head-to-head November runoff, Bass leads Caruso 37%-33% among all registered voters with 30% undecided.

The November election always draws a significantly larger turnout than the June primary, and in heavily Democratic Los Angeles, that bigger vote probably works to Bass’ advantage, many political experts say. But with the race starting off close and many voters undecided, Caruso’s ability to spend huge sums on the campaign makes the outcome unpredictable.

Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data Inc. and a California politics expert, noted Caruso’s relative popularity with Latinos may help him in November when more people are voting.

“Are those additional voters automatically in the Karen Bass camp like they would be if she was running against Larry Elder?” Mitchell asked. “It’s not as cut and dry, I think, as people might think. There might be pockets of that additional voter pool that comes in the general that are actually good for Caruso.”

Caruso already has poured nearly $40 million of his own wealth into the race — much of that spent on advertising. On the other side, Bass and the independent expenditure committee supporting her have spent just over $5 million.

His money has meant Caruso’s visage has been ubiquitous on the airwaves, the radio and on mailers in voters’ mailboxes. His message has been rooted in three issues: crime, homelessness and public corruption.

“This race is all about a thematic candidate like Caruso saying he’s had enough, we need change and is a can-do business guy, versus yet another friendly Democratic politician who is afraid to rock the boat,” said Republican strategist Mike Murphy, who lives in Los Angeles, is friends with Caruso and has worked with him in the past.

“There will be more casual voters, and that’s an opening in the general election, and the city is mad enough about City Hall corruption and homelessness,” Murphy said.

In the general election, crime probably will continue to play a key role in the race. Caruso has drawn strong support from voters who say they feel less safe now — just under half of the likely voters.

The share of likely voters who feel less safe, 48%, is up from what it was in the recent past, but safety has not become as universal a concern as homelessness. Just over half the likely voters said they feel about as safe as they did four years ago (43%) or feel safer (9%).

Three-quarters of Caruso voters say they feel less safe now, compared to one-third of Bass voters.

A key difference between Bass and Caruso is how large they think the LAPD should be.

The congresswoman wants the department to expand back to its authorized level of about 9,700 officers. Caruso wants the department to hire more and have 11,000 sworn officers.

Of people who said they’d be voting for Bass in the primary, 43% said they wanted the department to grow at least some. Nearly all, 95%, of Caruso supporters voiced that preference.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times