AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Abbott
In Los Angeles, billionaire real estate developer Rick Caruso is locked in a heated battle with Democrat Rep. Karen Bass for control of the mayor’s office in America’s second largest city. Though both are nominally running as Democrats, Caruso – who was a registered Republican until 2019 – represents the clear conservative alternative to Bass, and has remained within striking distance heading into the final weeks of the campaign.
Caruso shocked the political world earlier this year when polls initially showed him tied with odds-on favorite Bass to succeed incumbent mayor Eric Garcetti, who is term-limited. In the final results from the nonpartisan primary on June 7, Bass ended with a comfortable 43%-36% victory over Caruso, but failed to cross the 50% threshold, sending the race to a runoff between the two on November 8. Since then, both candidates have been working tirelessly to earn the votes garnered by the other 10 candidates on the ballot in June.
Caruso, a lifelong Los Angeles resident, has led a remarkably successful career in real estate following his graduation from the University of Southern California and Pepperdine Law School. His first stint in public service came at just 26 years old when former Mayor Tom Bradley tapped him to serve as the commissioner for the LA Department of Water and Power. 16 years later, Mayor James Hahn appointed Caruso to the LA Board of Police Commissioners, where he was eventually elected president.
Bass has led a long career in politics, beginning with her election to the California State Assembly in 2004. In 2010, Bass was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for her LA-based district and has held the post ever since. Even before her time in politics, Bass built a name for herself as an unabashed radical leftist, going so far as to volunteer on multiple occasions to serve Fidel Castro in Cuba. She’s also garnered a reputation as one of the most far-left members of the House. In 2017, for example, she eulogized a Communist Party leader on the floor of Congress. GovTrack ranks her in the top 30 most liberal U.S. House members.
Unsurprisingly, Bass has earned the endorsement of both Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden – who reportedly also considered her for VP. Caruso, meanwhile, has picked up the support of a number of Hollywood A-listers like reality TV star Kim Kardashian, rapper Snoop Dogg, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos, and actress Gwyneth Paltrow.
While Bass has generally endorsed Garcetti’s policies, billing herself as more or less an extension of his administration, Caruso has argued that it’s time for a new direction. His campaign has centered on tackling LA’s homelessness crisis, crime, and rampant government corruption – which consistently poll as top issues for voters.
Crime in particular is a growing concern for LA residents. In the first half of 2022 the city has seen its highest number of homicides in 15 years. Dozens of stores have closed in various parts of the city due to repeated break-ins and looting. Total violent crime in the city is up more than 15%, while arrests are down 15% – due in no small part to Garcetti’s efforts to gut police departments.
Since the primary, Caruso has trailed Bass by between 8 and 10 points, yet polling has been limited in the race. The simple fact that someone like Caruso is even running competitively in Los Angeles is itself a sign that residents may be ready for a change.
Other races elsewhere in the Golden State have also indicated that California residents are growing weary of the state’s left-wing governance. In San Francisco, voters successfully recalled far-left District Attorney Chesa Boudin earlier this year. Though a similar recall effort against LA District Attorney George Gascon fell just short of making it to the ballot last month, it still earned more signatures than another recall effort last year, suggesting growing voter dissatisfaction with the left’s criminal justice “reform” agenda.
Even if Caruso doesn’t emerge on top in November, his relative success may still indicate a broader shift in what has for decades been a reliable bastion of liberalism. With a wave of Latino and Asian immigrants in the 90s, many Democrats believed they had secured California for good. But now, with more minority voters growing disillusioned with Democrat leadership and outraged at the disastrous results of liberal policies, and a consistent conservative base in rural areas, it may not be unthinkable that California could soon be in play for Republicans again.
Andrew Abbott is the pen name of a writer and public affairs consultant with over a decade of experience in DC at the intersection of politics and culture.
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