Karen Bass’s Mayoral Momentum Is Building

There are more indicators that the highly regarded Congresswoman could blow up the 2022 Los Angeles mayor’s race

I don’t have a Magic 8 Ball, but if I did and I shook it up while asking, “Will Karen Bass run for mayor of Los Angeles?” I’m almost certain the response I’d find floating in that bluish liquid would read, “As I see it, yes.”

It’s possible one of the other nine affirmative answers would materialize, perhaps, “Most likely” or “It is decidedly so.” Even if it turns out that the device lacks actual seer potential, and is really just a toy mass fabricated by Mattel, I can’t fathom shaking and reading, “Don’t count on it” or “Reply hazy, try again.”

Why would the black plastic orb be so certain? If you look at the situation then, to use another 8 Ball phrase, all signs point to yes. A few weeks ago, the door to a Bass candidacy swung wide open when Council member Mark Ridley-Thomas, a longtime friend of the 37th Congressional District representative, said that he would not seek to succeed Eric Garcetti next year. Then, on Tuesday, in an interview with LAist, when asked if she’ll run, Bass remarked, “I am seriously considering it.”

Some will note that “consider” is a few steps short of a definitive declaration, and they’re right. But Team Karen, which has won six Congressional elections and before that notched wins in state Assembly races, knows that at this point the best move is to stoke passions and generate ground-level enthusiasm. If she had no intention of running for mayor, she’d have already quashed the discussion.

It is easy to overlook that Los Angeles is in a special period. The machinations of the next couple weeks may affect not just the coming election cycle, but the fabric of the city through the year 2030—when the next mayor could be termed out if she (or he) wins a second term.

The Bass crew is playing this beautifully, understanding pace, patience and the wider political atmosphere. The breadcrumbs began dropping in early August when the Washington Post first reported that “she has signaled she is open to running for mayor.” Another fell August 16 when Ridley-Thomas, who many anticipated would run for mayor, announced he would not enter the race so he could focus on addressing the city’s homelessness crisis. There was a widespread belief that Bass would not run against Ridley-Thomas.

Now, with the LAist article, the world knows Bass is “considering” entering. Another big breadcrumb.

Don’t underplay Ridley-Thomas’s role in the present and future. Not only did his announcement create a lane for Bass, but he instantly widened it; when asked at a Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum luncheon about her potential candidacy, he remarked, “I suspect if she were to run, it would send terror through the ranks of those who are so inclined.”

What has occurred since is the kind of grassroots movement politicians dream of, and the type that, in city races, usually only happens for outsiders, and not someone who has been in elected office for 16 years.

In addition to high-level political chatter, social media has been jammed with “Draft Karen Bass” messages. To use another 1970s-era reference, there hasn’t been this loud of a call for someone to come bursting through the door since the “Hey Kool-Aid!” commercials.

And Bass’ entrance into the race could be just as destructive for other campaigns as the Kool-Aid Man was to walls and fences in suburban neighborhoods.

Just consider the results of a private poll taken July 29-August 5. The survey, conducted by FM3 research and based on 803 interviews of likely primary voters (a copy of the results was provided to Los Angeles), found that with eight named candidates, 22 percent of respondents picked Bass as their first choice. No other candidate was chosen by more than 6 percent of respondents. The two declared City Hall figures now in the race, District 15 Councilman Joe Buscaino and City Attorney Mike Feuer, received 5 percent and 4 percent respectively.

It’s worth noting that just 44 percent of respondents picked anyone, and plenty will change during the months-long heat and mudslinging of a mayoral contest. Buscaino has signaled that he will wage an aggressive campaign built upon the topic of addressing homelessness. Feuer has won two successful citywide races. Nothing has been decided.

That said, the poll found that Bass was the top selection for Democrats, “progressive” voters, and white and African-American respondents. District 14 councilman Kevin de León, who has not announced a candidacy but is being watched closely, was named as the first choice by 15 percent of Latino respondents, just ahead of the 14 percent who opted for Bass.

Maybe none of this should be surprising. Bass, who formerly served as speaker of the State Assembly, saw her profile skyrocket last year when she was on the shortlist to be a running mate for Joe Biden, and then when she was considered as a U.S. Senate replacement for Kamala Harris. Bass has been vetted at the highest levels.

All this sparks the question of, when would Bass enter? After all, the June primary is just nine months away. No matter how strong a candidate’s base, it takes times to raise money and connect with voters.

While every day of no announcement could be seen as another day lost, something else is at play—the California recall election. Governor Gavin Newsom is fighting for his political life, and state and national Democratic leaders are coming out big for him, urging 22 million voters to keep him in office.

Bass is a team player, and it’s difficult to see her entering the mayor’s race and drawing attention—and money—to herself until Newsom is safe. I haven’t heard anyone cite any specific timeframe, but it seems unlikely that she would jump in now.

But once September 15 hits? That’s game on, and the name of the game may be Bassmentum.

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