LA ELECTION - According to the LA Ethics Commission as of October 31st, billionaire developer Rick Caruso has spent over $90 million dollars, mostly his own fortune and is on pace to exceed the $100 million dollar total by Election Day, November 8th.
The newly minted Democrat, sometimes independent and former Republican has already spent $92,272,088, with roughly $1 million dollars cash on hand.
In comparison, US Representative Karen Bass, the longtime liberal Democratic leader in the US Congress who was vetted for both Vice-President and a cabinet position has raised just $6,789,328 and has expenditures of $8.1 million with roughly $1.1 million cash on hand and has received $2.3 million in city matching funds placing her total fundraising at $9 million dollars.
Because Caruso has largely self-funded his campaign, he has rejected LA’s matching fund program.
With just days to go in reaction to the spending avalanche by Caruso, Bass has lined up political heavyweights supporting her candidacy including Vermont US Senator Bernie Sanders who appeared at a recent rally, President Joe Biden who was featured in one of her television spots as well as former President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle.
The campaign has taken on the theme of change versus the status quo, insider versus outsider as Caruso assumes the mantle of the change candidate and outsider while Bass sees it as “them versus us” with the former California Assembly Speaker stressing her coalition of working families, union members, African-Americans and Latinos as she seeks to become the first black mayor since Tom Bradley. Caruso, who runs as a Democrat has spent large sums of money pushing that narrative, as he now states he is unquestionably pro-choice despite his long ties to the Catholic Church here in LA County.
Caruso has pointedly distanced himself from any political comparisons to former President Donald Trump, despite the similarities as billionaire builders who have been part of the political process in more ways than one for decades with Trump in New York City and Caruso here in Los Angeles.
In Bass, who worked her way to the halls of Congress from a not-for-profit community advocate and organizer, finds herself in this David & Goliath contest in a city where Democrats are the predominant majority but issues like homelessness have questioned the direction of Los Angeles and if an outsider/businessman is what voters prefer. Despite Bass being an elected official for decades, she finds herself in the first truly competitive race in her career, coupled by the fact she is being woefully outspent and some Democrats seem to be hedging their bets not looking to make an enemy of yacht-owning billionaire, in particular California Governor Gavin Newsom who has not endorsed her as of this writing.
Caruso’s gargantuan ad buy across cable and broadcast television cannot be matched or even remotely countered in these final days and further complicating the Bass campaign has been the USC scandal in which the candidate finds herself in a similar scenario that saw longtime political insider and LA Council member Mark Ridley-Thomas indicted on federal corruption charges. While Bass is not a target in any new probe, the issue of free tuition for an elected official in wake of the Ridley-Thomas debacle has allowed Caruso to use the issue of scandal and corruption to his favor in his ads and messaging.
Caruso has indicated he will not draw a mayor’s salary; the same way Trump did not accept his presidential salary during his term of office. Caruso’s homelessness plan has been seen as more substantial than the one offered by Bass and a saturation ad purchase by the billionaire developer points out the Los Angeles Times prefers his plan even though they endorsed Bass in what is the only real issue on the minds of most voters.
It is the power of such a campaign blitz by Caruso that many could believe the newspaper of record has actually endorsed him over the longtime progressive.
Many see the race as a rerun of former Mayor Richard Riordan’s win in 1993 when he ran under the slogan, “Tough enough to turn LA around,” but others believe the demographics of 1993 and today are much different and that favors Bass who despite being massively outspent in the June Primary captured just a shade over 43% of the vote.
Others believe had Caruso not invested some $45 million in the primary, Bass would have won the race on the first ballot.
In that June Primary, Bass bested Caruso here in Venice, despite the neighborhood support given to LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and CD-11 and council hopeful Traci Park, the two law and order, right of center Democrats.
While Caruso has never held public office, he has deep roots in LA and his personal wealth and fortune are unmatched and without peer in political circles.
His heading of the LA Police Commission, his long involvement with USC and proposals to hire more cops, firefighters and sanitation workers is a message of political clarity while Bass has offered an optimistic version of LA, but lacking any real detail or specifics. It has exposed Bass for being a candidate who doesn’t know how to win the tough fights because almost all of her elections have been for the most part, layups.
While the race seems to be a toss-up, most observers see Caruso surging in the final days and his overwhelming media buy and message the clear difference in a race where he has borrowed the “businessman/builder” reasoning for election we all saw in the 2016 presidential race between Trump and former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. For Caruso has targeted Latinos fiercely and sees synergy between his own Italian ancestry and immigrant story that will appeal to Hispanics who view him as the end result of reaching the American Dream.
For Caruso’s dream as being the top dog of LA is certainly in sight as we count the hours until the polls close Tuesday night.
(Nick Antonicello is a longtime Venetian who is covering the race for Mayor of Los Angeles and how it effects the neighborhood of Venice. Have a take or tip on the race? Contact Antonicello via e-mail at [email protected])