Just five days before this month’s mayoral primaries, the nation’s top housing official made an unusual appearance with Representative Karen Bass in Los Angeles, helping the mayoral candidate put on a show that she would tackle the homeless crisis. of the city summoning friends in the federal government. .
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia L. Fudge’s visit to a subsidized apartment building was technically in her official capacity, paid for with US tax dollars rather than Bass campaign funds.
Fudge’s presence, however, fits perfectly with Bass’s campaign’s central argument – that his life in Democratic politics and national connections are an asset to solving the city’s most pressing problems.
Now that Bass (D-Los Angeles) is locked in a two-way race with billionaire Rick Caruso, campaign strategists and allies expect Bass to go overboard on that front — seeking endorsements and visits from national Democrats.
Such public engagements by high-profile party figures would help Bass make a sharp distinction with Caruso, who recently registered as a Democrat and is new to electoral politics. Among those on Bass’ wish list are President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and former President Obama.
Earning these endorsements is not guaranteed and comes with risks. But Bass’ allies believe they are worth catching.
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Caruso was 7 percentage points behind Bass in primary. He is spending far more than she is and is counting on disaffected voters from both parties who are fed up with crime, homelessness and public corruption to close the gap.
Bass’s allies say she needs to show she’s tackling these same problems head-on, while also making a partisan appeal to the huge base of Democrats in the city who traditionally put progressive candidates in office.
Endorsements, especially from Washington, are not often game-changing in local competitions. But Bass’s allies say national Democrats can put a positive light on his years in the US House and state legislature and emphasize his partisan bona fides.
“It would have that collateral consequence,” said Representative Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), a Bass endorser. An endorsement would have the benefit of “reminding people that Karen is a longtime Democrat who has worked in government for many years on solutions to problems,” he said.
Bass’s campaign, which has little incentive to publicly lobby for endorsements it may not get, declined a request for comment. A spokesperson for Fudge called her appearance her with Bass, which did not include a political endorsement, “routine” and just one of many city visits she made across the country.
Peter Ragone, a spokesman for Caruso’s campaign, dismissed the importance of national endorsements in the race and emphasized the campaign’s position that while Caruso has changed his party record more than once, he is now a Democrat.
“We think voters will have a clear choice between two Democrats and who will be able to really solve the problems of homelessness, crime and corruption,” Ragone said. “That’s what this election will be decided on.”
While some endorsements have helped candidates garner voters, overcome skepticism, or bolster campaign messages, they don’t always win. Former President Clinton, for example, intervened for Wendy Greuel, the city’s former controller, in her 2013 mayoral campaign. She lost to Eric Garcetti.
Some Bass supporters take issue with the idea that endorsements don’t count. Not everyone is the same weight, they admit. But many say House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s initial seal of approval, the San Francisco Democrat, along with other House colleagues, showed the advantages of getting such help. A nod from Biden could be even more meaningful.
“I would encourage President Biden to support his campaign,” Representative Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), a Bass supporter, said in a statement. “Having the mayor of one of the largest and most influential cities in the United States aligned with the government’s values and priorities is a force multiplier for any president.”
It is unclear when endorsements may take place. A consultant who supports Bass said endorsements, if they come, would be most effective in September or October. This is when attention is at its height and both candidates are pressuring voters to submit ballots or turn up at the polls.
One endorsement that seems uncertain is from California’s highest elected official — Governor Gavin Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor who has taken an increasingly visible and vocal role in the national Democratic conversation. In a recent television interview, Newsom said he is good friends with both candidates. And so far, he’s stayed out of the fray.
For Bass, there are several risks to framing the race as a national referendum on the Democratic Party, according to interviews with local and national Democrats, several of whom have ties to Biden and Obama. Biden, in particular, may not be of much help, even in overwhelmingly Democratic Los Angeles. His approval rating in polls has dropped below 40% nationally as his party braces for big losses in November’s elections. An April poll put Biden’s approval rating in Los Angeles at just over 50%.
Support from national Democrats could also contribute to Caruso’s strategy of painting Bass as an establishment figure. He argues that Bass bears some responsibility for the perceived failures of past administrations.
“She is well-meaning, but she is over 20 years old and all the problems during her tenure in Congress [and the statehouse] have gotten worse, and that’s not a sign of hope for the future,” Caruso told The Times days before the primaries.
Both campaigns talked about homelessness and public safety, but Caruso rarely strayed from the topics. His framing makes such problems seem far removed from the political debates in Washington.
Several people with knowledge of the race and the White House process hope that Biden will seriously consider endorsing Bass, and hope that progressives will begin to pressure the president to support his campaign.
Although the election is non-partisan, Los Angeles is a Democratic stronghold. The state system allows the top two in the primaries to run in general elections, regardless of party affiliation. During the primaries, some progressives criticized Caruso’s wealth and developer track record. They also criticized the former Republican’s shift in party allegiance and his financial support for candidates who opposed gun rights and are against abortion. Caruso, for his part, says he is pro-choice.
Another factor weighing in Bass’ favor in the White House: she is a black woman, and black women are a key constituency within the Democratic Party. Biden has made a concerted effort to elevate black women to powerful, public office — choosing Harris to be his vice president, winning confirmation as the first black woman to serve on the Supreme Court, and naming a black woman to be his spokeswoman in the House. White.
Biden is also familiar with Bass because she was on his short list of vice president candidates. Weighing against such an endorsement is a historic precedent – presidents typically don’t try to tip the balance in intra-party duels or in mayoral campaigns. Biden also has a tendency to only endorse candidates who supported him early in the presidential primaries. Bass joined Biden’s train quite late, after key party figures began to rally around him.
Harris, who has been elected statewide three times and maintains her residency in Los Angeles, could also be an effective replacement. She is not known to have a close relationship with Bass; however, they worked together on policing issues when Harris was in the Senate. Harris would only endorse Bass in coordination with Biden, according to the National Democrat.
Several high-ranking Democrats said Jeffrey Katzenberg, the media mogul and Bass supporter who is close to Biden and Obama, could serve as an intermediary in seeking help from the White House. Katzenberg declined to comment.
An endorsement by Obama is less likely. A person familiar with his thinking noted that he has not generally been involved in races between Democrats “and would not anticipate deviations in this circumstance.”
Obama and Bass “are not especially close,” the person said.
Both Bass and Caruso presented dozens of endorsements from unions and chambers of commerce. This being Hollywood, they also highlighted celebrities who support their candidacy, using the power of the stars to broaden their social media profiles. Caruso, for example, won the support of former mayor Richard Riordan, the city’s most powerful police union, Kim Kardashian and Gwyneth Paltrow.
In the end, however, testimonials from big names only go so far, said former mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who campaigned extensively for Bass.
“I don’t think endorsements win elections, whether national or local,” Villaraigosa said. “Candidates do.”