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Villaraigosa Holds a Large, Diverse Lead

Times Staff Writer

Antonio Villaraigosa has opened an 18-point lead over incumbent James K. Hahn in the Los Angeles mayoral race, with nearly every large voting bloc supporting his effort to bounce Hahn from City Hall, according to a new Times poll.

The survey shows that Hahn has yet to rebuild the historic coalition of South L.A. blacks and San Fernando Valley whites that thrust him into office four years ago. Both groups favor Villaraigosa by wide margins in the May 17 runoff.

The councilman and former state Assembly speaker holds a double-digit lead over Hahn among likely voters in every region of the city. He runs far ahead of the mayor among whites, blacks, Latinos, liberals, moderates, Democrats, Jewish voters and union members.

There are glimmers of hope for Hahn. Republicans -- roughly a quarter of the city’s electorate -- firmly favor his reelection, as do conservatives. He is also receiving more credit for accomplishments now than in polls earlier in the campaign -- particularly for the drop in crime.

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If the election were held today, the poll found, Villaraigosa would win, 53% to 35%, with 12% undecided.

The survey reflects the tough battle that Hahn faces in the campaign’s final weeks. Nearly two-thirds of likely voters say that Hahn’s policies have left the city no better off and that Los Angeles needs to change direction. That negative view complicates the mayor’s attempt to gain the traction needed to overtake Villaraigosa.

“We need a different face, a different approach -- maybe some fresh ideas,” said poll respondent William Yates, 43, a Venice musician who captured the city’s prevailing mood in a follow-up interview. He voted for Hahn four years ago but plans to switch this time to Villaraigosa.

The poll suggests that the councilman is well placed to make history by rallying a coalition of blacks, whites and Latinos behind a Latino candidate for mayor of Los Angeles. If elected, he would be the city’s first Latino mayor in 133 years.

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Still, the dynamics of the race could shift in unpredictable ways. Hahn and Villaraigosa are each prepared to close the campaign with a brutal assault of television ads that could damage either one of them. Each has sought to raise doubts about his opponent’s trustworthiness.

Debra Foss, a Sunland Republican in her early 40s who works for a music company, said Hahn was “doing an OK job” and Villaraigosa “lacks character.”

“Hahn’s the better of the two,” she said.

For now, however, large groups of voters whom campaign strategists have pegged as up for grabs are tilting heavily toward Villaraigosa. Among them are those who voted in the mayoral election last month for Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who has endorsed Villaraigosa, and former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg of Sherman Oaks.

Parks voters favor Villaraigosa over Hahn, 50% to 34%. Hertzberg voters also prefer Villaraigosa over the mayor, 52% to 28%.

For Hahn, other danger signs abound. Just 44% of likely voters approve of his job performance -- a perilous rating for any incumbent nearing a reelection vote -- and 49% disapprove.

“It’s time for a change,” said Hollywood Hills investor Greg Witherspoon, 58, a Republican who voted for Hahn four years ago but now supports Villaraigosa.

He said Hahn had failed to improve public schools or ease traffic congestion. He also voiced concern over what he called “scandals” at City Hall. A criminal investigation of city contracting and Hahn’s campaign fundraising has led to relentless political attacks on the mayor, who has denied any wrongdoing.

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An ominous trend for Hahn is his steep decline in support among voting blocs that drove his 7-point victory over Villaraigosa in their runoff contest four years ago.

Whites, for instance, backed Hahn over Villaraigosa 59% to 41% in the 2001 runoff, according to a Times exit poll. But in a striking reversal, they favor Villaraigosa over Hahn in the rematch next month, 52% to 35%.

African Americans favored Hahn over his rival four years ago, 80% to 20%. This time, Villaraigosa has vaulted 20 points ahead of Hahn among likely black voters. By 52% to 32%, they support the councilman.

“I voted for Hahn, and the first thing he did was kick me in the face -- and I don’t forget it,” said James White, 60, a retired black apartment owner, referring to Hahn’s support for the ouster of Parks, an African American, as police chief. White, who lives in the Crenshaw district, supports Villaraigosa.

Nearly all of the city’s black political and church leaders united behind Hahn four years ago but have switched to Villaraigosa this time, repudiating a decades-old alliance with Hahn and his father, the late county Supervisor Kenneth Hahn. The poll suggests that black voters at large are making the same turn, despite Hahn’s aggressive push to rebuild his support base among them.

The mayor’s former political base in the Valley also appears tattered. Valley voters backed Hahn over Villaraigosa in 2001 by 55% to 45%. But in another dramatic turnaround, Valley voters now back Villaraigosa over Hahn, 54% to 34%.

“Hahn’s neglected the Valley,” said Chatsworth legal assistant Diane Ragsac, 38, a Democrat who voted for him in 2001 but now backs Villaraigosa. “That bugs me.”

She supported the Valley’s attempted secession from Los Angeles in 2002 and was bothered by Hahn’s campaign against the proposed breakup of the city.

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In another abandonment of the mayor, Jewish voters favor Villaraigosa over Hahn by a 36-point margin: 62% to 26%. They backed Hahn over Villaraigosa four years ago 54% to 46%.

Democrats -- roughly 60% of the city’s electorate -- are another area of weakness for Hahn. They favored Villaraigosa by 4 points in 2001. But in the current race, the councilman runs 36 points ahead of the mayor among Democrats. Both Hahn and Villaraigosa are Democrats.

For Villaraigosa, Latinos remain a bulwark, with three in five siding with the councilman. But Hahn’s standing among them has also grown substantially in the last four years. A third of Latinos back Hahn for reelection, up from 18% in his 2001 runoff against Villaraigosa.

Among the top sources of Hahn’s difficulties are questions about his integrity and leadership skills.

Nearly a third of likely voters say he lacks the honesty and integrity to serve as mayor. Nearly half say he is not a strong leader. Villaraigosa scores substantially better on both questions.

Hahn “gave away the town with his pay-to-play,” said retired Van Nuys engineer Terrence McCarethy, a Republican who backed Hahn in 2001 but now supports Villaraigosa.

On major issues, the councilman holds a considerable edge over Hahn on which candidate voters say would do a better job dealing with schools and traffic congestion. Nearly half of likely voters also say Villaraigosa understands the city’s needs better than Hahn does.

But the poll found that the mayor has made progress in gaining credit from voters for his hiring of a popular police chief, William J. Bratton.

“The single most brilliant thing he did in his administration was to hire Chief Bratton,” said Betsy Bridges, 51, a Pacific Palisades Democrat who is leaning toward Hahn.

The poll highlighted potential vulnerabilities for Villaraigosa: Three in 10 likely voters say they expect that he would pay more attention to Latinos than to other ethnic groups. Nearly half of Republicans hold that view.

“I would tend to think he would favor more of his own people,” said Bill Weber, 63, a Playa del Rey Republican who plans to vote for Hahn.

Three in 10 likely voters also see Villaraigosa, a former labor organizer, as more closely tied to special interests than Hahn -- although the mayor scores slightly worse on the question.

Weber said Villaraigosa “kind of flip-flops on issues depending on which way the wind is blowing at the time. “I don’t like that,” he said. “I like a candidate who knows his own mind and is going to be resolute.”

The survey, supervised by Times Poll Director Susan Pinkus, was conducted by telephone April 5-11. The poll questioned 2,061 registered Los Angeles voters, including 781 deemed likely to vote in the election next month. The margin of sampling error for likely voters is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Times Poll Associate Director Jill Darling Richardson and data management supervisor Claudia Vaughn contributed to this report.

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Which way, L.A.?

Q. Should Los Angeles continue in the direction Mayor Hahn has set or move in a new direction?(1)

Hahn’s direction: 24%

New direction: 65%

Don’t know: 11%

(1) Among likely voters

Source: Times Poll

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

The Times Poll

Los Angeles residents likely to vote in the upcoming election were asked:

Q. If the May 17 runoff for mayor of the city of Los Angeles was held today, for whom would you vote?

*--* James Antonio Don’t K. Hahn Villaraigosa know All likely voters 35% 53 12 Democrats 27% 63 10 Liberal Democrats 21% 71 8 Republicans 54% 34 12 Conservative Repub 53% 31 16 Whites 35% 52% 13 Blacks 32% 52 16 Latinos 33% 61 6 Westside 33% 52 14 SF Valley 34% 54 12 Central LA 40% 50 10 South LA 27% 61 12

*--*

--

Q. Which candidate would be:

Better at improving the city’s public schools

Hahn: 23%

Villaraigosa: 52%

Neither/both: 17%

Don’t know: 8%

Better at understanding the needs of Los Angeles

Hahn: 27%

Villaraigosa: 47%

Neither/both: 20%

Don’t know: 6%

Better at improving traffic and transportation

Hahn: 25%

Villaraigosa: 39%

Neither/both: 19%

Don’t know: 17%

Better at holding down crime

Hahn: 40%

Villaraigosa: 33%

Neither/both: 18%

Don’t know: 9%

More closely tied to special interests

Hahn: 37%

Villaraigosa: 30%

Neither/both: 21%

Don’t know: 12%

--

Q. Do you think Hahn/Villaraigosa is a strong leader?

Hahn

Strong leader: 44%

Not a strong leader: 49%

Don’t know: 7%

Villaraigosa

Strong leader: 59%

Not a strong leader: 23%

Don’t know: 18%

--

Q. Do you think Hahn/Villaraigosa has the honesty and integrity to serve as mayor?

Hahn

Honest: 57%

Not honest: 31%

Don’t know: 12%

Villaraigosa

Honest: 64%

Not honest: 20%

Don’t know: 16%

--

How the poll was conducted: The Times Poll contacted 2,975 adults in the city of Los Angeles by telephone April 5-11, 2005. Among them were 2,061 registered voters, of which 781 were deemed likely to vote in the May election. Likely voters were determined by a screening process that included questions on intention to vote, certainty of vote, interest in the campaign and past voting history. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the city, and random digit dialing techniques allowed listed and unlisted numbers to be contacted. Multiple attempts were made to contact each number. Additional African American and Latino voters were contacted in separate random samples to allow more accurate analysis of their subgroups. Adults in the entire sample were weighted slightly to conform with their respective census proportions by sex, ethnicity, age, education, region and party registration. The margin of sampling error for likely voters is plus or minus 4 percentage points. For some subgroups, the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results may also be affected by factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented. Interviews in the supplemental samples were conducted by Interviewing Service of America, Van Nuys. While Asian voters were interviewed and are included as part of the overall results in this poll, they are too small a subgroup of the sample to be separately reported. Interviews in all samples were conducted in both English and Spanish.

--

Source: Times Poll


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