LOS ANGELES (AP) — Democratic U.S. Rep. Karen Bass and billionaire developer Rick Caruso breezed past a large field of rivals looking to be the next mayor of Los Angeles and advanced Tuesday to a runoff election in November.
An early tally of mail-in ballots showed Caruso with 41% and Bass with 38%. A candidate needed to top 50% to avoid a runoff.
A dozen names were on the ballot, though several candidates dropped out. Bass, a favorite of the party’s progressive wing, and the Republican-turned-Democrat Caruso easily distanced themselves from the rest of the field - city Councilman Kevin de Leon, a former state Senate leader, was a distant third with 7%.
Bass, ho was on then President-elect Joe Biden’s short list for vice president, would be the first woman mayor of Los Angeles and the second Black person to hold the office.
The race largely focused on homelessness and crime. More than 40,000 people live in trash-strewn homeless encampments and rusty RVs, and widely publicized smash-and-grab robberies and home invasions have unsettled residents.
Caruso, 63, who sits on the board of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and was endorsed by the police union, has positioned himself as a centrist outsider running against City Hall’s progressive establishment. He blames Bass, 68, and other longtime incumbents for sprawling homeless encampments that have spread into virtually every neighborhood and concerns about unsafe streets.
His strong performance is an unwelcome sign for Democrats defending their fragile majorities in Congress and in other races around the country.
The last time City Hall veered to the political right was in 1993, when voters turned to Republican businessman Richard Riordan to lead the city in the aftermath of the deadly 1992 riots that erupted after four white police officers were acquitted of assault in the beating of Black motorist Rodney King.
Los Angeles, however, is much changed since Riordan’s days. It’s more Latino, less white and more solidly Democratic. Only 13% of registered voters are Republicans.
Caruso’s estimated $4.3 billion fortune has allowed him to run a seemingly nonstop display of TV and online ads. His campaign’s spending — over $40 million as of early this week, most of it his money — has topped all other candidates combined.
By comparison, Bass’ spending has hit about $3.3 million, though both campaigns also have been supported by ads from outside groups.
There’s been competition over celebrity endorsements, as is typical in Los Angeles. Earvin “Magic” Johnson is backing Bass, while Caruso has Snoop Dogg and Gwyneth Paltrow behind him.
Lately, the race has taken a nasty turn.
Ads run by Bass and her allies depict Caruso as a West coast version of former President Donald Trump, who is dodging taxes, blowing a “right wing dog whistle” and lying about Bass’ record.
In advertising from Caruso and his supporters, Bass emerges as an ethically compromised charlatan who missed key votes in Congress and counts an indicted city councilman in her circle of friends.