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Obama endorses Karen Bass for L.A. mayor

President Obamai with Karen Bass in 2011.
Then-President Obama with Rep. Karen Bass at Roscoe’s House of Chicken & Waffles in Los Angeles in 2011.
(Susan Walsh / Associated Press)
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The Democratic circling of the wagons for Rep. Karen Bass is complete.

Former President Obama endorsed the congresswoman on Saturday in her bid to be the first female and second Black mayor of America’s second-largest city.

His support helps add weight to Bass’ campaign argument that she’s the only real Democrat in the race and that her opponent, Rick Caruso, became one out of political expediency.

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That has been a central attack line from Bass, who has emphasized that her opponent had been registered as a Republican as recently as 2019. Caruso said the GOP had shifted and became too extreme and that was why he switched parties weeks before announcing his candidacy earlier this year.

“I know Karen. She was with me in supporting my campaign from the beginning, and Karen Bass will deliver results,” said former President Obama, who also recorded a robocall in support of Bass that will begin Sunday. “Make no mistake, there is only one proven pro-choice Democrat in this race, and Karen Bass has devoted her life to serving her community.”

The developer’s record-breaking spending has already topped $92 million since launching his mayoral bid in February.

With the robocall and a digital video, Obama’s backing completes a string of endorsements from national Democratic figures, including President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, both of California’s U.S. senators and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

It comes after a nearly 2,000-person rally Bass held Thursday night alongside Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who remains an immensely popular figure among progressives in the city.

“I am asking you in the next 12 days to work as hard as you can to elect Karen and other progressives,” he told the Playa Vista crowd. “But I’m asking you to come back the day after the election and continue to struggle to make sure that in America, we have the economic justice we deserve.”

 Sen. Bernie Sanders hugs Los Angeles mayoral candidate Karen Bass in front of several people with Karen Bass signs.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) rallies with Los Angeles mayoral candidate Karen Bass after speaking in Playa Vista on Thursday.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Earlier this month, Bass appeared with Harris and Biden at successive events. Since the primary, nearly every city and state elected official has endorsed her — though not Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is friends with both Caruso and Bass and has said he wouldn’t endorse either of them. He also shares a team of political advisors with Caruso.

Mayor Eric Garcetti has also stayed out of the fray, citing former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s decision not to endorse in the 2013 mayor’s race.

It’s unclear if any of these endorsements alone will make a difference in a contest, which appears to be tightening based on public and private polling reviewed by The Times.

The Times’ latest poll in September found that among registered voters who are Democrats, Bass leads by about 25 percentage points, and among likely voters who are registered Democrats, she leads by nearly 40 points.

“President Obama’s support underscores the contrast in this race and inspires our campaign as we share our plans to solve homelessness and make L.A. safer and more affordable for everyone during the home stretch,” Bass said.

Still, Obama’s endorsement comes as a bit of a surprise if only because The Times reported several months ago that it was unlikely he would wade into a local election. Obama and Bass are “not especially close,” a person close to Obama said in June, adding that he generally has not gotten involved in races between Democrats “and wouldn’t anticipate deviating in this circumstance.”

In recent months, Obama’s political team had been observing the race and in communication with former aides to the president and others who worked on his presidential campaigns and are now involved in the mayoral contest, according to sources familiar with the matter who declined to be named to talk about private deliberations.

With L.A.’s political establishment reeling from a scandal involving racist remarks, a presidential visit took on the air of a unity tour.

They include Doug Herman, who is advising Bass, Larry Grisolano, who is producing Bass’ paid media, and former deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton, who is not working on the campaign but helped with Bass’ debate preparation by playing Caruso.

Obama has endorsed candidates in a number of high-profile Senate and gubernatorial races in recent weeks.

“I think that anybody could see this race was getting competitive and he’s paying attention to races that matter,” said one of the sources familiar with the matter who declined to be named to talk about private deliberations. “My sense is that the president didn’t want this race to be decided by who has the biggest checkbook.”


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