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Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Dakota Smith and Julia Wick

Caruso, Bass and De León battle for the undecided voters as LA mayor’s field thins

LOS ANGELES — City Attorney Mike Feuer ended his campaign for Los Angeles mayor on Tuesday, the latest jolt to a race that has suddenly narrowed to a handful of leading candidates.

With less than three weeks remaining until election day, polls show that Rep. Karen Bass and developer Rick Caruso are the top candidates to replace Mayor Eric Garcetti, with City Councilman Kevin de León trailing.

Feuer’s exit follows that of Councilman Joe Buscaino, who dropped out last week and threw his support to Caruso. Feuer, who served with Bass in the state Assembly, endorsed her at a park in Encino on Tuesday.

The departures from the race weren’t surprising and laid bare the contours of the race. Feuer and Buscaino are well-known figures in local politics, but both struggled to gain a wider foothold with voters.

Caruso, meanwhile, is on pace to spend well over $20 million on advertising in the primary, a blitz that has introduced him to a wide swath of voters and put him in a dead heat with Bass, polls show.

Political consultant Dermot Givens said the June 7 election is now a three-way contest among Bass, Caruso and De León.

“It’s Caruso’s race to lose,” said Givens, who isn’t involved in the race. “Everyone in the city knows Caruso. Unfortunately, the voters are voting on name ID.”

Yet many — at least a quarter of likely voters — are undecided, according to a poll released last week by Bass’ campaign. An earlier poll co-sponsored by The Times found that 40% of likely voters remained undecided.

Another big question is whether Latino voters will turn out in large numbers for De León.

De León released two new television and digital advertisements Tuesday, including one narrated by actor Danny Trejo that casts the councilman as the only candidate who has made progress on homelessness.

A top advisor to De León also urged supporters in an email fundraising pitch last week to keep Caruso from advancing to the runoff.

“Whether you support Karen Bass or Kevin de León, there is only one way to prevent Rick from buying the mayor’s office — send Kevin to the runoff in his place,” wrote senior advisor Courtni Pugh.

The top two vote-getters in the June election will advance to a November runoff unless a single candidate receives more than 50% of the vote and wins outright.

Backed by Bass supporters, Feuer vowed Tuesday to “do everything I possibly can to assure that Karen Bass is our next mayor.”

The city attorney also praised her leadership in the state Legislature and accused Caruso of making “false claims” to voters about his ability to quickly fix homelessness.

A former L.A. City Council member, Feuer was the first politician to enter the race more than two years ago.

He touted his executive and legislative experience on the campaign trail and told voters he’d declare a state of emergency on homelessness and seek a ballot measure to double the size of the Los Angeles City Council.

The Times’ poll, conducted in late March and early April, showed Feuer with the support of 2% of likely voters and Buscaino with 1% support.

Internal polling done more recently by Feuer’s team showed him in third place but still far behind Caruso and Bass.

Feuer has also been dogged by a federal investigation involving his office and the Department of Water and Power, a scandal projected to cost the DWP more than $100 million. Two attorneys, including a former high-ranking city attorney, have pleaded guilty in the wide-reaching scheme.

Feuer has denied knowing about any of the alleged crimes but has faced calls to resign from advocacy group Consumer Watchdog over the scandal.

In recent weeks, Feuer embraced his long-shot status in the race and launched new television ads that painted him as an underdog. He also increased his attacks on Caruso, contrasting the billionaire developer’s career with his own record of public service and challenging Caruso to release his full tax returns.

Bass told reporters Tuesday that she was impressed by the detailed policy plans Feuer offered during his campaign.

“One of the things that I want to do is to sit down and talk to him about the policies that I’ve heard him speak about in his debates,” Bass said.

Feuer acknowledged that some voters will have already cast ballots for him but said that dropping out and supporting Bass sends a “broader message of unity,” particularly to undecided voters.

Political consultant Brian Van Riper said Feuer’s supporters likely are reviewing their choices and won’t necessarily back Bass.

“Karen Bass’ No. 1 goal needs to be to keep Caruso from getting over 50% of the vote. If a couple percent of [Feuer’s] voters go Rick’s way, that wouldn’t be a good thing for Karen,” said Van Riper, who isn’t involved in the race.

At the event, Bass was also asked about aligning herself with Feuer in light of the DWP scandal and Caruso’s campaign focus on corruption at City Hall.

“Corruption is very important and it’s something that I absolutely intend to address from Day One,” Bass said, adding that she may look at making the Ethics Commission, which administers laws related to campaign financing and ethics, an independent body.

As for Feuer, Bass said she has worked with him for more than three decades.

“I know of his work, I know of his leadership, and I’m very proud to receive his support,” Bass said.

Caruso senior campaign advisor Lex Olbrei responded to Feuer’s criticisms about the developer Tuesday by saying that “it would be much better for our city if politicians put as much energy into solving problems like homelessness, crime and corruption as they do making personal attacks.”

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