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The Skinny – LA Politics (un)Covered – May 25 Edition

Updated: Jul 11, 2023

By: Seth Jacobson

The LA Mayoral Race - Could Caruso Win it in the Primary – and everyone is asking where is Karen? And what’s with those PAC AD’s by the police union, Jeff Katzenberg and SEIU?

Well in just 6 weeks since our last update things have changed significantly. We learned this week that private polling done by both major mayoral campaigns show Rick Caruso in the mid to high 40 % range. With a shot at pulling off what might be an upset of the decade for Los Angeles politics. Our sources say tracking polls put Caruso at around 44% favorable and Karen Bass having not really improved over her 30+%. And still a large number of voters are undecided. In fact, according to sources that shared some of the polling, Bass is losing ground with Latino and west Los Angeles voters- which she cannot afford to do. Far behind is Councilmember Kevin DeLeon, who is barely making waves – but local political pros are saying he is already eyeing other areas where he might move in the future.

The most surprising statistic from the confidential polling data shared with The Skinny was that Bass is losing Latino voters by 2 to 1 over Caruso and DeLeon. Their biggest issue: law and order/crime and job creation. African American voters seem to be holding firm, but their ability to get to the polls in large numbers is in doubt. Caruso seems to be strong with older voters, first generation Latinos, and a surprising number of millennials that are new to elections. Could this be the year of the billionaire?

What are the Pundits Saying? The Skinny asked 10 top political operatives, some former council members and mayoral candidates that have run or been in campaigns and observing elections for over 25 years what they thought about the campaigns, the mayor’s race, whose campaigns are excelling, who is losing steam. What’s working and what is not. Here is what we heard:

Where’s Karen? Universally, the political pros are concerned that Caruso is defining her, and her positions on crime, homelessness and positioning her as a career politician. They feel she should have come out first, with whatever funding she had, and pushed to position him as the “rich white billionaire working to better his friends in business, not working for what’s best for Los Angeles.” Many think that she lost an opportunity as soon as the campaign kicked off spending her time fundraising, and that her team is “trying to put back the old Tom Bradley coalition.” Unfortunately, according to a former Bradley insider, those days are long gone. She needs to appeal to a broader audience- capture the valley and split the west side.

Kevin, we hardly knew you. Kevin DeLeon’s resume reads like a guy we should all vote for, the consultants however think his momentary council presence just did not serve him well in the early days. He pulled in Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster and political consultant, out of DC to try and frame the debate and create a “Latino voice”, but early polling in March and April shows he is just not connecting with an audience outside of the east side.

The “A” Team. Consensus is that Caruso has bought the “A” team in terms of consultants and brought together a team that is working seamlessly. We looked at the team. Beginning with Bearstar Strategies – Ace Smith and Juan Rodriguez, leading the day to day operations, media strategies. They have strong ties to Governor Gavin Newsom, Congresswoman Katie Porter and Senator Alex Padilla and have taken nearly $500k. While trying to shore up his progressive bonafides, he brought in Red Horse Strategies which is Doug Forand and his band of merry pranksters from the NY political wars. They’ve pulled in over $1 million and counting while working for Caruso. Former client of Red Horse Strategies, Eric Adams has strong union ties -- which is odd given Caurso runs mostly a non-union operation. To add to the mix Lex Olbrei, the campaign spokesperson/strategist who worked for Councilmember Monica Rodriquez and the Carpenters Union are also on the Caruso team. Then the team that is knocking it out door to door is Trebia Consulting who is Dveen Babaian and his grassroots team – doing coalition and on the groundwork, at nearly $350k. It’s a team worth its weight in gold. (and silver)

The ”B” Team. Our panel of consultants puts the Bass team in second place. The biggest push back we got is the internal struggles in the Bass campaign and the disorganization caused by the untimely departure of their first campaign manager. Rumors are swirling again that if she doesn’t do as well in the primary, we may see another change at the top. Still Danny Bakewell’s JKH Consulting seems to be still fully in charge, with Sherri Yost Gold, who advised VP Harris, and has been around the campaign scene for a while working the Democratic base. More recently, in what seems like a last-ditch effort to up their grassroots game they brought in 50+1, another progressive shop that has worked for Newsom, Bonta, Lee, Booker and of course Obama and the ACLU. Run by Addisu Demissie and Nicole Derse. Hold on let’s see if the media last minute media campaign works – and the Black voter turnout keeps Caruso back.

You’re under arrest – by the Police Union. The first negative salvo hit the airwaves 10 days ago, and there are calls for ethics investigations given Caruso’s longstanding membership on the police commission and the “consulting fee” that was paid to Bratton to do the first ad for the Caruso campaign. We tried reaching out to the union with no response, but it seems that there is a close connection between the consultants that did the “Ridley Thomas hit piece” and several of the Caruso folks. We’ll see if long-time Democrat legal eagle Stephen Kaufman and his team can find a hook. We reached out to the consulting team that is behind the ads and no response.

Mudslinging Billionaires:

So Jeffrey Katzenberg and SEIU have teamed up to fight back against the anti-Bass ads. They have their own firm (and did not return our calls), that has put up the Billionaire, pro-life, anti progressive wolf in sheeps clothing ad. From our calls to TV stations, the ad flight is limited (I guess their budget is not in the millions), but they are targeting mornings and evening news broadcasts. So let’s wait and see what other mud is brought up in the coming weeks. There is buzz in the Caruso camp that they too are concerned that there is undue coordination among the campaign and the PAC. A big no-no… but it’s unlikely we’ll see any action by the Ethics Commission.

Well, muddy waters seem to be the prevailing situation, but we are seeing a lot more action on the local level. In the last (and first) election Mayor Eric Garcetti pulled in a strong valley vote, and was able to connect with voters by positioning himself as the “change agent”. Seems like voters don’t want change – they want action. Fed up was the word most often heard in the open-ended questions to registered voters – so will voters act on their anger or will they stay home? More insight and intel in next week's “The Skinny”.


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