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Newsom stays on the sidelines in tighter Los Angeles mayoral race

The two men share business relationships — and political consultants. And Newsom has made it clear publicly that he likes Caruso, a prolific campaign donor.

“I’ve known Rick Caruso for years and years and years,” Newsom said in August.

The governor’s neutral stance has become more glaring as Bass, who would be the first black woman to lead Los Angeles, sees her advantage slip away. As her opponent pours tens of millions of dollars into an advertising blitz and a recent poll put the candidates in a statistical bind, the Democratic establishment is rallying around the congresswoman.

For Caruso, “a non-approval is a victory, honestly,” said Michael Trujillo, a Democratic consultant who has run campaigns for mayor of Los Angeles, of the governor’s decision.

Newsom has defended his neutrality as an unwillingness to meddle in Dem-on-Dem fights, but he’s had no problem weighing in on other such runs – and the fight between Bass and Caruso isn’t your typical intra-party battle. Caruso only recently changed his party affiliation after years of swinging between Republican and no party preference.

He has also promoted anti-abortion causes, although he now claims he supports abortion rights.

Those factors make Newsom’s silence all the more mysterious, said Bill Burton, a Democratic consultant who advised Obama’s first presidential campaign and backs Bass.

“It makes it odd in a race where you basically have a Democrat against a Republican that Newsom is neutral,” he said.

Caruso gave nearly $60,000 to Newsom’s gubernatorial campaign in 2018 and donated $500,000 to California’s Covid-19 Response Fund in 2020 at the governor’s request. Caruso was also one of several dozen members of Newsom’s business recovery task force.

Newsom, the former mayor of San Francisco, has repeatedly praised Bass for her decades of political leadership, but the two aren’t particularly close. In 2018, Bass endorsed former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in the governor’s primary over Newsom.

The governor’s decision not to run in this election could also expose him to criticism within key Democratic Party constituencies, said a California Democratic consultant who has known Newsom for many years.

“He’s calculated that dodging and covering on this one is the safest approach, but it’s looking more and more like he’s on an island,” the consultant said.

The consultant said Newsom didn’t “literally want to be in this race”, but by not supporting Bass he was helping his opponent – someone who spent $92 million to paint California’s biggest city as a den of corruption and incompetence.

“He stays out when all the other Democrats in the city, state and country are with him. [Bass] is a huge win for Caruso,” the consultant said.

Black political groups have previously hit out at Newsom for not endorsing Bass. Late last month, a group of organizations released a letter calling the governor’s support for black women “selective”.

Those criticisms could come back to haunt him during a presidential primary.

“I think, for someone with thinly veiled national ambitions, looking to effectively govern their state, they might consider showing their enthusiasm for the woman who is about to be one of the elected African Americans. most powerful in the country,” Trujillo said.

Newsom’s longtime consultants at Bearstar Strategies are also leading Caruso’s campaign. But other Bearstar clients, including Attorney General Rob Bonta, Sen. Alex Padille and Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis, endorsed Bass.

Newsom’s campaign spokesman Nathan Click pointed to the governor’s previous statements saying he liked both candidates. “I have great respect for the MP,” Newsom said when asked about the race in August.

Bearstar’s partners did not respond to two requests for comment.

Newsom frequently endorses candidates in races with two Democrats, including in this election cycle. He recently lent his support to Sacramento City Councilwoman Angelique Ashby, who is running for the state Senate against the California Democrats’ preferred candidate, Dave Jones. He’s also backing former state Senate Majority Leader Bob Hertzberg in his run for LA County Supervisor against West Hollywood Mayor Lindsey Horvath.

Nor does the governor stand to gain much by siding with Democrats and endorsing Bass in the election, said Bill Wong, a California Democratic consultant and former political director for the California Assembly Democrats. He was already popular in the party, and his recent forays into national politics — such as going after Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis — have only raised his profile.

What Newsom loses by not getting involved in the mayoral race,” Wong said, is “marginal compared to all the big wins he gets pursuing DeSantis and defining himself on his own higher level as a as governor.

Alexander Nieves contributed to this report.


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