The five top candidates for Los Angeles mayor face off Monday night in a live TV debate at UCLA’s Royce Hall. It’s by no means the first time they’ve met. But this is live TV, so it’s a chance to see how they perform under bright lights and many more thousands of eyeballs.
“There’s a lot more pressure,” said Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University. “If you make a mistake at a community forum, you can contextualize it later. It's harder to do that on live TV.”
Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel and Councilman Eric Garcetti remain the front-runners in this race. They’ve raised the most money – about $3.6 million each – and topped the early polls.
It's worth noting Garcetti has harbored his money more than Greuel. He has $3.5 million in “cash on hand.” Greuel has $2.9 million. (Both have received the maximum in city matching funds — $667,000.)
It's also worth noting Greuel will benefit from the labor union that represents Department of Water and Power workers and a handful of entertainment executives who say they’ll spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on her behalf via an independent committee.
But here’s the biggest thing to remember in the race to succeed Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa: most voters have paid little attention to it, and remain undecided.
That makes tonight’s TV debate even more important, and it provides hope to Councilwoman Jan Perry. She has $1.2 million in the bank — not quite enough for a robust TV advertising campaign before the March 5th primary. But a good performance in tonight’s live TV debate would provide Perry a needed boost.
Meantime, the fate of entertainment attorney Kevin James, the only Republican in the race, rests heavily with an independent committee that’s raised $700,000 to support him. Dallas billionaire and GOP stalwart Harold Simmons donated $500,000 of that. Republican advertising guru Fred Davis — who lives in the Hollywood Hills — has said he hopes to raise $3.5 million to support James.
Perry and James are seeking the support from fiscal conservatives most likely to back Greuel, according to Guerra.
“It's clear Perry and James have taken on the strategy of trying to come in second by going after Greuel voters,” Guerra said. “Every time they move up in the polls, they take more from Wendy than Eric.”
If no candidate receives a majority of the vote in the primary, the top two finishers face off in a May 21st runoff. Guerra said a runoff is a certainty.
The fifth candidate at tonight’s debate will be former technology executive Emanuel Pleitez, who has about $300,000 in the bank.
The one-hour face-off starts at 7 p.m., and will be broadcast live on NBC LA.
Watch for live tweets during the debate by following @stoltzefrankly on Twitter.