LA Mayor's Race: Hertzberg's Got the "Mo"

As we move to less than a week from the L.A. Mayor’s race, I figured it might be time to provide some brief insight on how this race is breaking down.

The big news here is that current Mayor Jim Hahn is struggling. While losing the Primary 4 years ago to Antonio Villaraigosa (30%-25%), only to come back and defeat him in the run-off, Hahn seems vulnerable to not even making it to the runoff this year.

The other big story in the race has been the surge of former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, who despite being a Democrat, is trying to reassemble the old Riordan coalition: Republicans, Westside voters, Valley voters, Senior citizens, whites and Jews. While just a month ago, he was only an “also-ran,” some risky early money being poured into a tv buy to air a great spot has propelled him into 2nd place according to the new LA Times poll, out this week.

Despite still being behind Antonio Villaraigosa by 3 points, Hertzberg has to be encouraged by these numbers.

Working for Hertzberg is the fact that despite being in 2nd place, he is still unknown to 41% of the voters (as opposed to Villaraigosa, whose name id is 88%). When the field is narrowed to two, that surely will change. If you were to balance out their respective name-id, Hertzberg would have a 7-point lead (31-24).

That aside, Hertzberg also is losing votes he’ll get back from Parks and Hahn among Republicans. Hahn greatly played to the Republicans in 2001 and has done a fair job on crime as Mayor, bringing in former NYC top-cop William Bratton as LA’s new Police Chief. Parks too is making a strong play for Republican votes, even hiring Republican consulting firm Blair/Biggs to handle his GOP outreach – touting his decent stances on business issues and his record as being tough on crime.

Not only do the numbers seem good for Hertzberg at this juncture, Villaraigosa’s numbers seem soft. Currently he enjoys a similar 3:1 favorable/unfavorable rating, with 88% name-id, and so for him to be at only 24% must be disheartening. That said, in all fairness, for the primary more Antonio voters are certain they’ll vote for him than any other candidate’s supporters. However, if you look inside the numbers at the 3:1 (66:22) favorable rating, a few things pop out.

Despite campaigning as a liberal, and having an extraordinarily liberal record as an Assemblyman and as a Councilman, Villaraigosa has a 43% approval rating among Republicans, a number that is sure to drop in the run-off. Additionally, he has an 80% approval among young voters (ie, those least likely to make it to the polls, especially in a low-turnout municipal race). While no one else is giving Villaraigosa much of a challenge for the votes of self-described “liberals,” he’ll have his work cut out for him to keep the votes of many Republicans.

Perhaps most damaging to Villaraigosa is the drop in support among Hispanic voters from his 2001 campaign against Hahn. In 2001, 62% of Latino voters supported Antonio, while just 45% do now. Even more interestingly, according to the LA Times poll of February 4, “Most voters in Los Angeles (83%) say having a mayor of their own ethnicity is relatively unimportant, including almost 7 in 10 who say it was not important at all.” This was evident in 2001 among black voters, as Hahn received 71% of the black vote. If Hertzberg is able to come close to adding any sizable chunk of this powerful minority to his vote totals, it could be lights out for Antonio.

Overall, Bob Hertzberg is very well positioned to make a strong shot at becoming the next Mayor of Los Angeles in the run-off. My only concern for him is whether he can get there. While the latest Times poll has him in 2nd, it is only by a single point – 21% for Hertzberg / 20% for Hahn. While that showed a 9-point bump for Hertzberg in the month of February and a 1-point drop for Hahn, that margin is well within the poll’s margin of error of +/- 4%. Additionally, if it is that close, Hahn is well positioned with his army of union employees operating his turnout machine, compared to what has seemed to me as a lackluster turnout effort for the Hertzberg campaign. So, while Hertz has most certainly got the “Mo” on his side, it wouldn’t shock me if Hahn were able to steal the primary and force a sequel to the 2001 campaign.

In less than a week, we’ll find out what happens. Stay Tuned.


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