By Eric He
City News Service
LOS ANGELES (CNS) – The expensive and at-times contentious race to become the next mayor of Los Angeles remained in a virtual 50-50 deadlock Wednesday, Nov. 9, between developer Rick Caruso and Rep. Karen Bass — and a winner might not be determined for days.
Results continued to come in from the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office, with Bass and Caruso trading leads. But neither candidate had gained separation beyond a few thousand votes.
Caruso led Bass by 12,282 votes according to preliminary totals released by the county Registrar-Recorder’s office.
In speeches at their respective election night parties, both Caruso and Bass acknowledged the race may be too close to call for a while.
The early batch of results included only early vote-by-mail ballots cast before Election Day, and the second batch were from vote center ballots cast before Election Day. The latest poll before Election Day indicated that the race was tightening after Bass had a sizable lead earlier in the campaign.
Caruso, walking out at his election night party at The Grove, said he didn’t know the outcome yet but that they were “starting out strong.”
Caruso thanked his supporters for taking “a chance on an unproven candidate who has never run for office.” He spoke about his grandparents immigrating to Boyle Heights, where he cast his ballot on Tuesday. Caruso said he wanted to provide the chance for everybody to achieve the American Dream.
“This election has always been about those that have felt left behind and unheard,” Caruso said. “Well let me tell you, I hear you and change will happen.”
In her speech at the Los Angeles County Democratic Party’s election night party at the Hollywood Palladium, Bass said it was “going to be a long night” and that the results might take a few days, before leading the crowd in a chant of “We will win.”
“We will win, we’re going to build a new Los Angeles, and when we win, we have to begin again,” Bass said. “We want a City Hall that’s not just a City Hall for the powerful, not just a City Hall for the wealthy — but a City Hall that is for everyone so that we can have the quality of life that I know that we deserve.”
Bass stated that Los Angeles is “at a crossroads,” and that the election is a “fight for the soul of our city.”
“And I know the soul of our city is based in a set of values that is reflected in the Democratic Party,” Bass said.
Bass, a six-term member of Congress, is seeking to become the first woman and only the second Black person to lead Los Angeles. Caruso, a billionaire, is looking to win a campaign that’s on track to spend over $100 million — much of it from Caruso’s own fortune — to propel him into contention.
Bass held a comfortable lead in the polls just a month ago, but recent surveys ahead of Election Day show that Caruso has closed the gap considerably. Bass led Caruso 45% to 41% in a UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll conducted from Oct. 25-31 — co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times — with the gap within the margin of error. A Southern California News Group poll conducted by J. Wallin Opinion Research from Oct. 15-17 found a 3-point lead for Caruso, which was also within the margin of error.
An earlier version of the UC Berkeley IGS Poll in early October showed Bass with a 15-point advantage among likely voters.
Experts told City News Service that, while the electorate in Los Angeles favors Bass, the race could hinge on other factors.
“The conventional metrics tell me that Karen Bass is going to win,” said Fernando Guerra, professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University. “However, there are two things: the general discontent with the electorate, and $100 million being spent by Caruso — and that makes a difference, obviously.”
Whoever wins the election will inherit leadership of a city grappling with a scandal that has embroiled City Hall for the past month, after three councilmembers and a top county labor official took part in a leaked conversation in October 2021 that included racist comments and attempts to manipulate redistricting.
“We’ve had a really volatile month in LA County, and Rick Caruso has made a late push here that clearly has made, at least in the polling, a significant difference,” said Mindy Romero, director of USC’s Center for Inclusive Democracy.
Caruso has connected the controversy to claims that the system is broken — exacerbating issues such as homelessness and crime. He painted himself as the candidate of change, blaming a failure of leadership for the City Hall scandal.
“People are spending more time protecting themselves and protecting their jobs than working for the residents of the city,” Caruso said during the final mayoral debate on Oct. 11. “This is why we have crime out of control.”
Bass said at the debate that she would make sure Los Angeles rejects “the politics of divide and conquer.” Bass, who beat Caruso by nearly 8 percentage points in the June primary, has sought to frame her opponent’s campaign as one driven solely by Caruso’s wallet.
“He shows the worst of what can happen when you have somebody who has unlimited resources, and then you have someone who is raising money and abiding by all the rules,” Bass said in an interview with City News Service. “He has no rules. He just writes checks.”
Caruso countered that by pulling from his personal funds and not taking money from special interest groups, he would not be swayed by lobbyists and have the city’s best interests at heart.
Bass has also criticized Caruso for switching political parties. Caruso was a Republican until 2019 and donated to anti-abortion politicians, allowing Bass to contrast herself as a “lifelong, pro-choice Democrat” in a city that leans heavily Democratic.
Caruso said at a debate in September that he has always been socially liberal, and that he left the Republican Party in 2019 because it didn’t reflect his values — noting his support for Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Gov. Jerry Brown.
“I liked the Democratic Party of 10 years ago and I like the Democratic Party of today,” Bass said. “Because the Democratic Party of today is more diverse — more diverse politically and diverse in every single way.”
Initial results from Tuesday’s voting were posted by the Los Angeles County Registrar Recorder/County Clerk shortly after 8 p.m. — but experts cautioned that people should not read too much into them, with millions of vote-by-mail ballots still to be counted. A close race might not be determined until late this week.
“I would totally caution people to not make any decisions or conclusions until probably midday, late Wednesday, maybe even Thursday, depending on how fast it is,” Guerra said.
The prolonged process of counting and verification that comes with accepting ballots by mail is a good thing, according to Romero.
“We want that process to go through every step that it needs to go through,” Romero said. “It’s part of ensuring voter confidence, and part of our democratic process here in the state of California.”