L.A. on the Record: The biggest X-factor

Rick Caruso and Karen Bass
L.A. mayoral candidates Rick Caruso and Karen Bass during an earlier debate.
(Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to L.A. on the Record — our local elections newsletter. It’s Julia Wick, Dakota Smith, David Zahniser and Ben Oreskes, just barely hanging on until election day.

It doesn’t take a genius to know that elections are decided by the people who show up.

But in the precedent-smashing Los Angeles mayor’s race, the makeup of the electorate remains an open question — and the biggest X-factor in the battle to lead the nation’s second-largest city.

New polling released Friday confirms that the race has tightened dramatically in recent weeks. Rep. Karen Bass continues to hold an edge over Rick Caruso, with 45% support to Caruso’s 41% among likely voters, with 13% saying they remain undecided. But Bass’ advantage is within the poll’s margin of error and strikingly smaller than the 15-point margin she held a month ago.

The poll also made clear that this race is no longer a contest of ideology or plans to fix homelessness or address crime. It’s about the shape of the electorate. That’s a topic we’ve been yammering about throughout the race, but it’s worth taking one last look at the variables before Tuesday.


We’ll start with the most obvious one: This is the first mayor’s race since Los Angeles shifted its elections to even years to sync the calendar with state and national races. We saw increased — albeit not overwhelming — turnout in the primary, but primary and general elections are two separate beasts. There is no direct historical model for who shows up in an even-year mayoral general in L.A.

The conventional wisdom in Los Angeles politics has long held that a higher-turnout election with a more financially, racially and age-diverse electorate favors more progressive candidates. (City elections have historically been decided by a relatively small electorate that’s whiter, wealthier and older than the city at large, which has been less favorable to progressive candidates.)

For Bass, the hope is that the people who have cast ballots look like the ones who came out in the primary or basically any other election in Los Angeles. That means lots of white people voting and, more specifically, lots of white liberals and particularly women.

But — and here’s the big but — Caruso’s $13-million bet on get-out-the-vote efforts aims to upend that conventional wisdom. Caruso’s field operation is designed to spur turnout among people — particularly Latino voters — who have shown an interest in Caruso but don’t always vote in mayoral elections.

That effort has focused on the San Fernando Valley, which looks a lot less like the Valley of yore and more like the diverse city of the present.

“I’m sure [Caruso] is getting some of those voters to vote for him. But he also could possibly get some of those voters to just turn out, period, and they go for Bass,” said Mindy Romero, a political sociologist and director of the USC Center for Inclusive Democracy. “It’s not a guarantee.”


Romero thought another wild card in the waning days of the campaign was how fallout from the City Hall recording leak might influence the mayoral race.

She said she worried that frustration with a system that voters deem corrupt might depress turnout, but she could also see the scandal having the opposite effect.

Anger, she said, “is often found to be a much greater motivator for turnout than, let’s say, the reverse, when it’s a positive story.”

Here’s one more variable you may not be thinking about: the weather. There’s a chance of rain Tuesday, potentially dampening turnout.

And if Caruso is counting on Republicans to get him over the finish line on election day, he could face a problem. Data from votes that have come in so far suggest that Republicans may be waiting to cast their ballots in person — and post-2020, GOP voters have heavily favored in-person voting.

Of the mail-in ballots that have been cast by L.A. voters through Wednesday, 65% were from Democrats, 15% from Republicans, and 20% from “no party preference” voters and those with other affiliations, said voter data expert Paul Mitchell.

Of ballots that have been cast at booths — a significantly smaller overall number than vote-by-mail ballots — 52% have been from Democrats and 27% from Republicans. And 22% have been from “no party preference” voters and those with other affiliations.


About 20% of the likely voters surveyed in the recent Times poll said they planned to vote in person on election day. Our poll found that about 14% of likely voters were registered Republican, and they favor Caruso 91% to 4%, with 6% undecided. So if the rain keeps people at home, it likely hurts the businessman and former Republican donor.

If the race is close, Republicans who don’t come out to vote in person because of rain or other factors could affect the outcome.

State of play

— LAT ELECTION GUIDES: Given the ubiquity of mail-in ballots, you’ve likely cast your vote already. But if you haven’t, and still have questions, you might take a look at our handy election guides, which look at each of L.A.’s contests and many others as well.

— THE DAD FACTOR: Caruso has pitched a vision of L.A. that is rooted in his family’s experience here, of immigrants arriving in Boyle Heights, scraping by as laborers, and successive generations finding prosperity in quintessential Southern California industries: automobiles and shopping malls. His campaign bio notes his father “was indicted and served time for fraud,” though he, perhaps understandably, hasn’t talked much publicly about this ugly and painful chapter of his family’s life. Matt Hamilton and Ben Oreskes go deep on the incredible rise, fall and resurgence of Hank Caruso and explain why he never wanted to see his son run for mayor.

— POLITICS & POLICING: The LAPD, and the amount of money it receives, is a key issue in several City Council races. Whoever wins will have a major say on the department’s budget and upcoming contract talks with the powerful police unions. Meanwhile, two citywide candidates — Faisal Gill for city attorney and Kenneth Mejia for city controller — are promising much tougher scrutiny of the LAPD.

— THE FIGHT OVER 41.18: Candidates in L.A.’s down-ballot races are also divided over Municipal Code Section 41.18, the city law barring homeless encampments outside schools and day-care centers. The Times talked to candidates who favor a repeal of the law, as well as those who view it as a much-needed safety measure.

DEM CLUB CLASH: The mayor’s race, and the contents of secretly recorded audio at the county Federation of Labor, have generated new questions about the way Democratic clubs dole out endorsements to their favored candidates. The Times looked at the practice by some clubs of charging people to join, which then allows them to vote on candidate endorsements.


NEVER TOO SOON TO LOOK BACK: Already feeling nostalgic about the endless campaign season in the rearview mirror? L.A. Mag’s Jon Regardie has you covered with this multi-chapter look back at “the twists, turns and key moments in the 32-month (!) campaign” that was.

UPCOMING DEPOSITION: A judge ruled this week that Caruso has to sit for a deposition within 60 days in a lawsuit related to the Americana at Brand in Glendale. Caruso Affiliated Holdings LLC sued the insurers of the development last year, arguing the insurance policies were insufficient and caused Caruso to suffer damages. The lawsuit came after leaking showers caused water and mold damage at the condos at the Americana at Brand, which resulted in a $22-million lawsuit settlement between the homeowners association and Caruso’s companies.

— “VOTING FOR HIM, BUT I’M NOT TELLING ANYONE”: The latest edition of Common Sense — former New York Times opinion writer Bari Weiss’ Substack publication — has a very favorable-to-Caruso deep dive on the L.A. mayor’s race written by Peter Savodnik.

LAST DIGS: Political consultant John Shallman — who spearheaded City Atty. Mike Feuer’s mayoral campaign in the primary — is self-funding a digital ad attacking Caruso in the final days of the race. Shallman is putting $15,000 behind the ad targeting Valley and Westside voters, he said.

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Quick hits

  • Who’s running the city? Still Eric Garcetti. His confirmation as ambassador to India awaits a Senate vote.
  • The latest in endorsements: Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell was endorsed by the Beverly Press/Park La Brea News and a group of Indigenous leaders in the Council District 13 race. Traci Park was endorsed by the Israeli-American Civic Action Network, Santa Monica City Councilmember Lana Negrete, former Rep. Yvonne Burke and Steve Soboroff in the CD 11 race. Park’s opponent, Erin Darling, was endorsed by Rep. Ro Khanna, Democrats for Israel Los Angeles, the Muslim Democratic Club of Southern California, Avance Democratic Club, Pilipino American Los Angeles Democrats and Black Los Angeles Young Democrats. CD 5 candidate Katy Young Yaroslavsky was endorsed by Assemblymember Tina McKinnor and Westside Voice.

(If you have an endorsement you’d like to flag for next week, please send it to us.)

  • On the docket for next week: Election day is Tuesday!

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