Is Caruso trying to Win It All in June?

Mayoral candidate is spending loads, and rivals are exiting. But 50% + 1 is unlikely.

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Could the winner of Los Angeles’ mayoral race be decided in the June primary?

The murmurings began shortly after Rick Caruso, a billionaire first-time candidate, began lobbing unprecedented sums of his own money into his campaign.

Speculation grew louder in recent weeks, as Caruso’s spending approached $30 million and several rivals dropped out of the race.

Was Caruso attempting to use unmatched resources to avoid a longer election battle? And could a candidate win outright with more than 50% of the vote while so many others remain on the ballot?

The short answer, based on interviews with local election experts and an analysis of polling data: It is possible, but highly unlikely.

Still, the prospect has some progressives issuing urgent warnings to their followers via social media.

Comedian Adam Conover, in a May 13 message that has been retweeted 10,000 times and screenshot into countless Instagram posts, said Angelenos should be “A LOT more worried” about Caruso’s candidacy — and his chances of securing a majority of the vote in the first round.

“I think that Caruso is gunning to win this way, and I think he has a chance of making it happen,” Conover told his more than 200,000 followers in a follow-up tweet.

Speaking to a reporter on a sun-dappled upstairs patio at the Grove this week, Caruso gave little credence to the rumors.

“The truth is I’m attempting to win and I’m focused on that,” Caruso said, saying he didn’t give the purported 50+1 strategy “a lot of thought.”

Asked whether his mammoth campaign spending is part of a concerted one-and-done primary bid, Caruso said the money was being used to get a message out — a message he characterized as “obviously being well- accepted by the voters.”

Fernando Guerra, director of Loyola Marymount University’s Center for the Study of Los Angeles, had serious doubts about a June victory. With several other candidates still in the race, “I don’t think the numbers are there,” he said.

“But if anybody has the resources to try that play, it would be Rick Caruso,” he said. “So why not try it?”

Politicians at City Hall have a long track record of winning outright in the first round when they are seeking reelection. That was the case in 2017, when Mayor Eric Garcetti won reelection for his second and final term with 81% of the vote in the primary. His predecessor, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, did the same eight years earlier.

A first-round triumph during a race for an open mayoral seat would be a different story.

Over the last century, no new mayor has won outright during a primary election. And even with several wild-card factors in this race, experts and political consultants say it’s not likely that we see such an outcome in June.

The battle to occupy the top seat at City Hall has looked like a two-person race between Caruso and Rep. Karen Bass for months. Councilmember Kevin de León, a prominent local politician who has trailed Caruso and Bass as a distant third in recent polling, recently went on TV with an ad narrated by actor Danny Trejo.

De León and his supporters have long posited that Latino voters, who make up a substantial portion of the city’s electorate, will ultimately swing toward De León at the last minute.

poll of Latino voters from NALEO Educational Fund conducted about a month ago found the largest share of voters were undecided, with leading support roughly split between De León and Caruso and at 17% and 15%, respectively.

“The vast majority of Latinos will be voting on election day,” De León said in an interview. “That’s why we’re working around the clock every day to earn every single vote.”

Other names on the ballot include activist Gina Viola, who’s commanded a small but dedicated following running to the left of Bass, former Metro board member Mel Wilson and former public relations executive Craig Greiwe.

Beyond the mammoth sum of money Caruso has already put into the race, other factors have fueled speculation about the developer taking a shoot-the-moon in June approach.

Two well-known elected officials, Councilmember Joe Buscaino and City Atty. Mike Feuer, dropped out of the race. Buscaino, the first to drop out, endorsed Caruso.

The Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents LAPD officers and has endorsed Caruso, has put about $4 million into a political action committee aggressively attacking Bass in TV ads. (Election rules stipulate that the outside PAC cannot coordinate with the Caruso campaign.)

John Shallman, a veteran L.A. political consultant who helped lead Feuer’s campaign, thinks Caruso is trying to win in a single round, to avoid the scrutiny that would come during a five-month runoff campaign. But he doubted the effort would succeed.

“He’s a business guy with a lot of baggage, so he wants to strike now and buy this election while it’s relatively cheap and before people have time to vet him,” he said.

Shallman said the prospect of a first-round victory by Caruso was among the factors behind Feuer’s decision to drop out and endorse Bass last week.

“Normally you wait for the losing candidates to endorse you after the primary, because you’re thinking of the general,” said Raphael Sonenshein, a local government expert who runs Cal State L.A.’s Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs. “But if your hope is to really just knock it out in the primary, this is a good strategy: Spend a ton of money, lock up endorsements, hit really hard. … It doesn’t mean it’s to the exclusion of trying to win in November.”

Still, getting more than 50% of the vote in a race where nine candidates are still running — and 12 names remain on the ballot — would be an extremely difficult feat. Polling results released by Bass and her supporters only reinforce that idea.

political action committee promoting Bass provided The Times with results that put Caruso at 37% and Bass at 35% among likely voters. A separate set of survey numbers provided by Bass’ campaign showed her with 34% support among likely voters and Caruso at 32%.

Both polls put Caruso and Bass within the margin of error of each other. By that token, Bass could theoretically also make a play for an unlikely June victory, but her financial resources are far more limited.

Avoiding a second-round, head-to-head matchup with Bass could have advantages for Caruso. When the survey from the pro-Bass PAC narrowed the choice for voters to just Bass and Caruso, Bass took a nearly 10-point lead, drawing support from 48% of likely voters, compared with Caruso’s 39%.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times


  1. Rottweiler says

    Anything is better than Buzzcut Bass, a progressive that just won’t stop to make this place more unlivable. Honestly, California is the titanic right now. Everyone who has a dollar left is going to have to flee to another more logical place to live with people that aren’t governed by fear and lacking common sense, not to mention good judgement. The people who live here are sheep and love to be led like sheep. Baaaa, another booster baaaa ok. Another dollar a gallon for gas, baaaaa ok. Another progressive DA who celebrates criminals and lawlessness, baaaaa ok. A worthless corrupt politician progressive who ruined SF first, Gavin Newsom for Governor, baaaa sure. So you see where this is going? Then when they don’t like what they voted for they move to a red state and ruin it with their putrid vote. I don’t think they should be allowed to go to a red state but rather go to one of their own blue states like NY, Chicago, HI or stay in this crap hole but don’t ruin another red state like Florida.

  2. Demwits love identity politics and they love to cheat. I’m waiting until Election Day to walk my ballot to the voting center. I won’t use those rigged machines. The earlier we vote the more time they have to figure out how many fake ballots to create.

    I’ve noticed in a lot of the flyers, other candidates are boasting about not being politicians. They know we don’t want political grifters who have ruined our cities and states. So that is a selling point for me. I’m not a Demwit but I’m voting for Rick Caruso.

    The only incumbent I am voting for at this point is Sheriff Villanueva. The way the Left has smeared him for years tells me he is doing a good job for residents. He’s been great at exposing local officials’ incompetence regarding crime and the homeless.

    People should help Ric Grenell in his Fix California organization to clean up voting. Throw a few bucks his way. He is a patriot who worked in the Trump administration.

  3. Really??? says

    It just might be the stench of the Democrat Party of the likes of Slick, Waters, DA, etc. is now too much for the D voters to stomach.

    One could hope.

    The Black on Black crime, the Hispanic on Hispanic crime has not stopped with multiple Democrat Mayors….

    This is going to be interesting.

  4. Are the problems so embedded and unsolvable that the bureaucracy, no matter who is in charge of it, or how much money they throw away, can’t be effective with ANY mayor? Look at all the big-shot managers who have failed at LAUSD (the public school district) because of a bureaucracy determined to defeat any initiative for change. Why Caruso thinks he can make any headway is an enigma wrapped up in a riddle.

  5. Even without the huge influx of campaign spending by Mr. Caruso (who I hope wins) LA voters are far more affected by the races for the two LA County Board of Supervisors races. Sheila Kuehl isn’t running for re-election (disclosure: I am on the ballot!) and an additional common-sense vote would mean we stop defunding the sheriff and punishing landlords and students. The quality of life for 10 million Angelenos is affected by the 5 women on BOS—vote for sanity in districts 1 and 3.

  6. Protect Freedom says

    It doesn’t matter who wins, because ALL of the candidates are Democrats. Caruso is a hard line Democrat.
    He and all of the candidates are full of empty promises. Nothing will change in Los Angeles.

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