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How Karen Bass prevailed against Rick Caruso’s $100-million campaign

A late endorsement from former President Obama, along with the Supreme Court decision striking down Roe vs. Wade, helped propel Karen Bass to victory over Rick Caruso.


Los Angeles Times

As autumn settled over Los Angeles, Rep. Karen Bass suddenly found herself in a tight race with developer Rick Caruso.

The double-digit lead that polls showed she built through the summer had crumbled under a multimillion-dollar onslaught of attack ads. Clips of her giving a speech to a meeting of Scientologists over a decade ago aired in heavy rotation. Spots appeared on all platforms about a USC scholarship she received, which was being mentioned in the corruption prosecution of a city official.

Bass offered explanations for both, but had little money to respond with advertising of her own.

By mid-October, public and private polling showed the congresswoman only slightly ahead, or neck and neck. On Oct. 17, the campaign's own polling showed the race tied, 45% to 45%.

"We just felt the barrage of dollars and we couldn't show anything yet," said Community Coalition Chief Executive Alberto Retana, who runs the nonprofit Bass founded. "The volunteers were just calling and hearing people ask: 'Is the Scientology thing true?'"

In need of a shot of momentum, Bass' campaign team had their pollster, David Binder, write a memo about the state of the race. It was sent to political advisors to former President Obama.

Obama's team had made clear earlier in the summer that his backing was unlikely and told people that his support would come only if it was necessary. "His strategy is to engage where he can help move the needle," said Eric Schultz, an Obama advisor. Still, he'd been following the race closely, his daughters live in Los Angeles and he'd visited the city over the summer, according to people familiar with the matter.

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