Karen Bass Now Leads Rick Caruso for Mayor—Thanks to Mail-In Voting

Bass is now seeing key support pour in from a surging number of mail-in ballots after a new law ensures ballots are sent to all voters statewide

The vote count in the airtight Democratic primary for mayor of Los Angeles flipped this week in favor of Rep. Karen Bass, who as of Tuesday can thank a spike in mail-in ballots for her campaign’s surge over her chief rival, Rick Caruso. 

On June 6, election night results showed Caruso, a billionaire developer with a mostly self-funded campaign, pulling into a first-place finish with a 5 percent lead over Bass, who has spent nearly two decades in the state legislature and as a congresswoman. This initial count mirrored polling that showed the shopping mall magnate, who registered as a Democrat just before launching his star-studded, $40 million campaign, pushing ahead of the longtime civil servant. 

As of Tuesday, mayoral primary results are showing that the congresswoman has now received over 41.05 percent of the vote to Caruso’s 38.29 percent. Kevin De Leon received a distant 7.77 percent as of this week and Gina Viola has now received 6.05 percent; votes for the remaining candidates totaled less than five percent as of Tuesday’s count. Bass is now seeing key support pour in from a rising number of mail-in ballots—a development that almost certainly stems from a landmark piece of state legislation signed into law last year.

On September 21, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a legislative package that included Bill AB37, which had been put forth by Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park), that sought to ensure that vote-by-mail ballots be sent to every registered voter in California—permanently and for all elections. A prior, similar bill was passed in 2020 to counteract pandemic-related disruptions and to keep Californians both safe and confident that they’d be able to cast their ballots and return them by mail, secure drop box, or at a voting center or traditional polling station.

In fact, the Bass camp is seeing the same post-election night surge in mail-in ballots that (eventually) pushed President Joe Biden into the White House in the tense days after the 2020 election. Beset with the surging pandemic that year, approximately 46 percent of voters cast their ballots in the presidential race by absentee or mail-in ballot, according to a Pew Research analysis. A majority of Biden voters—58 percent, according to Pew—sent in absentee or mail-in ballots. Trump voters mailed their ballots by a 32 percent margin. This quickly played into the GOP’s false claims, which are ongoing, of widespread election fraud. 

(Photo by Hans Gutknecht/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images)

Over the weekend, Bass seemed confident that she would eventually win the race while appearing on MSNBC’s The Sunday Show with Jonathan Capehart. Speaking with the host, she compared her $3 million campaign fund with Caruso’s massive war chest—money which was mostly transferred over from the mall mogul’s own bank account.

“You would have thought $40 million compared to $3 million, that I would have been wiped out,” she said of her campaign—which, like Caruso’s, has also seen its share of powerhouse celebrity endorsements. The former California State Assembly speaker also noted that she was not only attacked by Caruso in ads, but she also had to contend with the local policemen’s union going after her credentials and campaign.

Despite this confidence from the congresswoman, the fact is that neither Bass nor Caruso has passed or come within swiping distance of the 50 percent vote threshold that would give them an outright primary win so, as of now, the two candidates will still advance to a head-to-head runoff in November.

Caruso spokesman Peter Ragone told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday that the campaign is “excited to accomplish our goal of making the runoff and giving voters a chance to clean up L.A.”

On Friday, Team Caruso may experience yet another reversal of fortune in this seesaw of a primary when another vote tally will drop. And this may continue, again and again, because over 365,000 primary votes have yet to be counted. The final results could be announced as early as next week… or well into the summer. 

Meanwhile, in non-mayoral races, late surges caused by an uptick in mail-in votes were shared by a number of newcomers and progressives in down-ballot contests. Local activist Eunisses Hernandez was ahead of City Councilman Gil Cedillo by 50.65 percent to 49.35 percent in the vote count on Tuesday, putting a Cedillo third term in jeopardy. Hugo Soto-Martinez’s lead over City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell broadened in the race for an open City Council seat. Also, attorney Faisal Gill’s lead over former prosecutor Marina Torres grew even wider in the race for LA City Attorney.

After Tuesday’s vote tally release, several other key races appear to be headed for a November runoff as well. Embattled Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s lead over former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna tightened a bit, showing the top cop with about 32 percent of the vote while Luna received about 26 percent, and Sheriff’s lieutenant Eric Strong received just over 14 percent. And 31-year-old Los Angeles Times-endorsed City Controller candidate Kenneth Mejia widened his lead over Paul Koretz, now taking 40.73 percent to his opponents’ 24.68 percent of the vote.

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