President Biden, Vice President Harris back Karen Bass in L.A. mayor’s race
President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris endorsed Rep. Karen Bass’ mayoral campaign on Tuesday, saying in a joint statement that they were “eager to continue to partner with her on innovative strategies to reduce homelessness and increase public safety and prosperity.”
“Karen Bass has our friendship, and she has earned our respect through her leadership in Congress on crime prevention strategies, effective and fair policing, and the welfare of children and families,” Biden and Harris said.
Bass — who finished the June primary with a seven-percentage-point lead over Rick Caruso — called the endorsement a “true honor,” saying in a statement that she was excited to continue partnering with the administration. The congresswoman was on Biden’s short list for the vice presidency prior to the 2020 election, though Harris was ultimately chosen for the role.
Rep. Karen Bass wants to frame her mayoral campaign as part of a national partisan battle. Not all agree that endorsements from national Democratic figures would help.
The Biden-Harris endorsement marks a show of strength for Bass. Sitting presidents do not typically weigh in on intraparty battles or in mayoral races.
Take the city’s last open mayoral race in 2013, when then-City Councilmember Eric Garcetti tussled in a competitive race against Wendy Greuel, a fellow Democrat in local elected office. Garcetti had been a loyal ally to then-President Obama, whereas Greuel had served in the Clinton administration and been an active early supporter of Hillary Clinton when she ran for president in 2008.
But despite Garcetti’s longtime support for Obama, the president declined to weigh in on the 2013 race, with his press secretary saying he didn’t want to wade into a battle between two Democrats.
The practice is a bit less fraught for former presidents. Former President Clinton, who had been out of office for more than a decade by that point, endorsed Greuel in the 2013 race. And shortly after leaving office, Obama put his support behind Garcetti’s reelection effort in 2017 in what was essentially a noncompetitive race against 10 little-known challengers.
Bass was also endorsed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week.
“This is a national election with national importance,” Garcetti said when asked Thursday about his thoughts on the Clinton endorsement of Bass. “As we’ve seen in past elections, national players get involved.”
Bass has built up a wall of support from establishment Democrats, with endorsements from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and a host of other state and federal elected officials. Caruso has been endorsed by a single Democratic elected official: City Councilman Joe Buscaino, who represents a district that spans from Watts to San Pedro.
Caruso also has a much more complicated relationship with the Democratic Party than Bass. The real estate developer spent much of his life as a Republican, had a relatively brief stint as a no party preference voter and changed his party affiliation to Democratic in late January.
Along with backing from business and law enforcement groups, Caruso’s splashiest endorsements have come from celebrities, including Snoop Dogg, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kim Kardashian, Katy Perry and billionaire tech mogul Elon Musk.
The mayoral race is technically nonpartisan, but party affiliation has become a contentious issue in the overwhelmingly Democratic city. But Bass’ near-monopoly on establishment Democratic support could also play into Caruso’s critiques of her as an establishment figure who would bring more of the same to the city.
Painting a dystopian picture of crime and homelessness in the city on the campaign trail, Caruso frequently derided his primary opponents as career politicians who were ill-equipped to take on the city’s problems.
Caruso settled into a similar line of attack late Tuesday morning, responding to the Biden-Harris endorsement news with a series of tweets castigating Bass.
“No endorsement will hide the fact that @KarenBassLA has a track record of failing to address LA’s homelessness, public safety, and corruption,” Caruso wrote, saying the endorsements have nothing to do with the actual campaign.
“The same old from establishment politicians won’t stop this city from sliding into an even more desperate situation,” Caruso said in a follow-up tweet.
Neither Garcetti nor Gov. Gavin Newsom, two of the most prominent Democrats in the state, has weighed in on the race.
It’s unclear whether Harris, a Californian who has a home in Brentwood, will stump for Bass in L.A. The Bass campaign did not immediately respond to a question about whether Harris would campaign for her.
Times staff writer Dakota Smith contributed to this report.
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