Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Mariachis, soccer and a vice presidential visit: Bass and Caruso in a final, frenzied sprint

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The marathon campaign for mayor of Los Angeles turned into a sprint in the last few days, with Rick Caruso and Karen Bass crisscrossing the city — each in their own double-decker bus — in the hope of locking down undecided voters and turning out their supporters ahead of Tuesday’s election.

Bass brought out some political star power, appearing at a UCLA rally Monday with Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff. At points over the weekend, Bass’ Starline Tours bus seemed like a rolling party, with a rotating cast of about 50, including actress Alfre Woodard, former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and a host of young supporters.

Caruso spent part of Monday meeting supporters from a business organization at a Ventura Boulevard restaurant. That followed a weekend of barnstorming that included a visit to Boyle Heights, a stop at the MLS Cup championship game and some hand-shaking at homecoming festivities at USC, his alma mater. Caruso was accompanied mostly by aides on his azure-blue double-decker.

The race has grown tighter in recent weeks, with Bass holding a 4-point lead — 45% to 41% among likely voters — according to a poll released Friday and conducted by UC Berkeley’s Institute for Governmental Studies and co-sponsored by The Times. As of Monday, turnout was at 19%, with Angelenos dropping off their ballots or mailing them, according to data compiled by Political Data Intelligence.

At UCLA on Monday, Harris headlined an event that was ostensibly about promoting Proposition 1— the proposed state constitutional amendment protecting abortion rights — but featured speaker after speaker talking up the prospect of having the first female mayor of Los Angeles.

Recent polling suggests that Bass’ path to victory is about maintaining her popularity among women, Democrats and people who identify as liberal or progressive. Continuing to remind voters that Caruso was a Republican as recently as 2019, while standing beside the person who is first in line to the presidency, had the effect of boosting those credentials.

“I’m back in L.A., because I do love L.A. and I know Karen Bass,” Harris said to a crowd of close to 700 people. “Karen Bass has a long history of always being on the side of the people, fighting for the people, fighting for the people whose voices aren’t in the room but must be present.”

Rick Caruso hears the concerns of a Los Angeles resident while walking along Ocean Front Walk in Venice on Friday.

Rick Caruso hears the concerns of a Los Angeles resident while walking along Ocean Front Walk in Venice on Friday.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Bass spoke before the vice president and reminded students of how much her opponent Caruso has spent and his past party affiliation.

“Democrats understand that being a Democrat is not about checking the box,” she said. “Being a Democrat is about a core set of values. It’s about how you live your life.”

Caruso, speaking to the Valley Industry & Commerce Assn., kept the focus on one of his main campaign topics, saying he welcomed Gov. Gavin Newsom’s rejection of homelessness plans for cities around the state, saying that Newsom was right in demanding more of local governments.

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“Unless we start aggressively building and getting people off the streets, we’re gonna lose control,” Caruso said, noting that he had just seen a homeless man preparing to shoot up drugs while he was out campaigning.

He accused Bass of producing a modest plan that would not seriously reduce the ranks of those living on the streets, especially when compared with his plan to provide 30,000 new beds for unhoused people in his first 300 days in office.

“So we’ve got to go big and bold, and I’m ready to go. I really am,” Caruso said.

The weekend, though, featured less talk of policy and more festive and frenzied efforts at reminding people to vote.

For Caruso, that meant a stop at Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights on Saturday, which was teeming with raucous LAFC soccer fans. The team won the MLS Cup, its first league championship, Saturday afternoon at Banc of California Stadium in Exposition Park.

Caruso bounded off his bus wearing an LAFC hat and into the embrace of about three dozen supporters. He’d just come from the game — where a plane towing a sign with his name circled the stadium — and later returned to the nearby Memorial Coliseum to cheer on USC and campaign at tailgates.

“The Latino community literally can change the direction of this city,” Caruso yelled — pointing to a group of voters who if they show up could potentially propel him to victory. “Your vote is your voice. You’ve been so good to me, supporting me, respecting me.”

Down the block at a sports bar, LAFC fans took a break from watching the game to jeer him and hold up signs supporting Bass as his bus pulled up.

Rep. Karen Bass, center, in a crowd of people holding signs

Rep. Karen Bass, center, campaigns in Echo Park.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Earlier in the day, Emhoff, speaking to a boisterous crowd at Echo Park Lake, said of Bass: “She’s not doing it for fame. She is doing it for us and our city that we all love. She’s going to bring our city together.”

On Sunday, each candidate brought their bus to the politically pivotal San Fernando Valley.

With 1.46 million residents — 38% of the city’s population — turning out supporters in this region will be essential to either candidate’s success. Recent polling from The Times showed Caruso up by 9 percentage points in the Valley even as he trailed by 4 percentage points among likely voters across the city.

A diverse crowd milled around on a front lawn in Valley Glen, preparing to canvass for Bass.

“She’s the only real Democrat in the race,” said Michael Menjivar, president of San Fernando Valley Young Democrats, explaining why he’d been spending weekends canvassing for Bass in the Valley. “She’s got 30-plus years of experience working at every level of government, and she is the more qualified candidate.”

This area of the Valley where canvassing would take place Sunday was “a little tougher” for Bass, Menjivar said.

“I’ve experienced, unfortunately, a lot of Caruso signs around here and a lot of folks who are undecided,” the North Hollywood resident added.

Still, he remained “cautiously optimistic” about Bass’ chances in the Valley. The front lawn crowd had grown to about 80 supporters by the time Bass’ double-decker Starline Tours bus turned onto the residential street, to giddy excitement.

Inside a cavernous Mexican restaurant in a Sylmar strip mall, brunch patrons — nearly all of whom had just been handed “Rick Caruso for mayor” hats — craned to get a better look at the candidate.

“I’m leaning more towards him,” Faviola Garcia said as she and her parents watched a sweater-clad Caruso pose for selfies around the room. But the Garcias, who are registered to vote in Pacoima, had yet to make their final decision.

Two people with mayoral candidate Rick Caruso and a dog

Michaela Budd, left, and Stephanie Solis offer a prayer for L.A. mayoral candidate Rick Caruso last week in Venice.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

For Caruso, the buffet-style, bottomless-mimosa Sunday brunch was also a battleground. The overwhelmingly Latino clientele at Casa Torres were largely residents of the northeast Valley — an area whose residents could help decide the outcome of the mayoral election, should they vote.

The Garcias, like many other patrons, said they planned to vote in person Tuesday.

Even the five-piece mariachi band appeared to have been handed hats, which they tucked into instrument cases and onto music stands as they returned to the makeshift stage.

“I just want to say hello,” Caruso told the musicians as he shook each of their hands and thanked them.

Standing between the guitarrón player and a jar marked “mariachi tips,” Caruso pulled out his wallet and dropped a crisp $100 bill into the glass bowl as the band began to play.

The weekend also saw some of the city’s most famous residents stump virtually on social media for their favored candidates.

Some of Caruso’s last-minute Hollywood endorsements — including actors Chris Pratt and Jessica Alba, via Instagram posts — sparked ire from Bass supporters online, who also resurfaced Caruso’s pre-primary endorsement from embattled billionaire Elon Musk. Bass backers also took frequent aim at Caruso’s spending on Twitter in the final days of the race.

High-profile celebrity endorsements were a prominent and occasionally controversial strategy for the Caruso campaign in the lead-up to the primary, though the tactic has been less visible ahead of the general election.

Netflix co-Chief Executive Ted Sarandos — an early and vocal Caruso backer — made waves in Hollywood with an open letter about his support for Caruso that appeared as a full-page ad on the Hollywood Reporter’s website. Meanwhile, Bass backers such as Woodard were out and about across the city, and on social media, stars such as Rosario Dawson, Mark Hamill and Kumail Nanjiani voiced their support.

“This city is at an inflection point,” Sarandros wrote in his letter. ” This election is the most important in memory.”

Times staff writers James Rainey and Dakota Smith contributed to this report.

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