Aug 2, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Biden and Harris back Karen Bass for L.A. mayor in rare joint endorsement

Karen Bass
Photo: Sarah Morris/Getty Images

President Biden and Vice President Harris issued a rare joint endorsement on Tuesday, supporting Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) in the open Los Angeles mayoral race and praising her for leading on "crime prevention strategies."

Why it matters: The first joint Biden-Harris endorsement of the 2022 midterms cycle has drawn the White House into an intra-party battle between two ideologically opposed Democrats.

  • Bass — a Black congresswoman from California who was on Biden's VP shortlist in 2020 — will face off against billionaire businessman Rick Caruso in a Nov. 8 runoff after neither surpassed 50% of the vote in the June primary.
  • Caruso is a former Republican who registered as a Democrat at the start of this year to gear up for a mayoral campaign in a liberal stronghold.

Between the lines: A Biden adviser told Axios in May that the president has a "longstanding position" not to tip the scales in open primaries, but that he would support "incumbents who have been with him on votes and supporting his agenda."

The intrigue: Harris and Bass are both from California but reportedly became "frenemies" during the VP search.

  • Tensions grew when several negative stories about Bass — detailing her ties to Cuba and her past praise for the Church of Scientology — emerged during the period she was under consideration to be Biden's running mate.
  • Bass' team had the impression that veterans of the Harris campaign were responsible for the leaks, according to the book "This Will Not Pass" by The New York Times' Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns.

The big picture: Biden has previously endorsed seven candidates across Pennsylvania, Illinois, Oregon, New Mexico, Virginia, Ohio and California, but this is the first time he's getting involved in a mayor's race.

  • Biden endorsed and campaigned with California Gov. Gavin Newsom in the recall effort led by Republicans last fall.
  • Former President Obama declined to endorse in the LA mayoral runoff between Eric Garcetti and Wendy Gruel in 2013, because it pitted two Dems against each other.

Zoom in: Biden's relatively few endorsements this cycle have gone to Democrats running for hyper-competitive swing seats, such as Terry McAuliffe for Virginia governor and John Fetterman for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania.

  • Primaries in which Biden felt compelled to lend his support included Democratic challenges against Reps. Shontel Brown (Ohio), Kurt Schrader (Oregon) and Danny Davis (Illinois).
  • So far, Schrader and McAuliffe are the only Biden-backed candidates to lose.

The backdrop: Crime, homelessness and policing in Los Angeles emerged as top issues ahead of the primary, prompting many Democratic voters to consider an alternative in Caruso.

  • The Biden-Harris endorsement highlights all of those concerns: "We are endorsing Karen Bass for Los Angeles Mayor because we are eager to continue to partner with her on innovative strategies to reduce homelessness and increase public safety and prosperity," they wrote in a statement. "Karen Bass has our friendship."
  • In her own statement, Bass called the endorsement a "true honor" and said she is "excited to continue partnering with them when I get our city moving on homelessness, public safety, [and] affordability."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the title of Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns' book.

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