By Jean Merl
Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich has a steep hill to climb to keep his job in next month's election, a new USC Price/L.A. Times poll has found.
Challenger Mike Feuer, a former city and state lawmaker, held a lead of more than 11 percentage points over Trutanich, drawing support from 36.8% of voters, compared with 25.5% favoring the incumbent. With about a month to go before election day, nearly 38% of the voters surveyed had not made up their minds.
The USC Sol Price School of Public Policy/L.A. Times Los Angeles City Election Poll surveyed 500 likely voters by telephone over a three-day period beginning Monday. The poll was conducted by Benenson Strategy Group, a Democratic firm, and M4 Strategies, a Republican company. The poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
Trutanich finished second with 30% of the vote in a four-way primary election last month. Feuer was first with 44%.
The city attorney could still make headway with the substantial number of undecided voters. "The race certainly hasn't been decided," said USC's Dan Schnur, director of the poll.
But he is in a tough — and somewhat unusual — position for an incumbent seeking reelection from voters who do not appear to be particularly unhappy, pollsters said.
"It's an uphill road for Trutanich," Schnur said. "This is not an angry, throw-the-bums out electorate, so you would assume [there would be] a better landscape for an incumbent."
Chris St. Hilaire of M4 noted that Trutanich was losing among Democrats, independents and Anglo voters "and that's a huge problem for him." A large number of voters who said they were undecided before the March primary election ended up voting for the city attorney, St. Hilaire said. In the May runoff, the new poll shows Trutanich would need to win undecided voters by almost 2 to 1 to overcome Feuer, he said.
Compounding Trutanich's problem, said Benenson's Amy Levin, is the "drop-off" factor, a tendency of some voters to mark their choices in the top races and skip voting in lower-profile contests.
The city attorney is one of three officials elected citywide, but races for that office, as well as city controller, have generally attracted less attention than mayoral contests. That is especially true this year when two well-funded candidates — Councilman Eric Garcetti and Controller Wendy Greuel — are spending millions in their battle to succeed Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Feuer, a Democrat, began his city attorney campaign in 2011 and has raised considerably more money than Trutanich. He's also collected support across the political spectrum.
Last year, Trutanich, a former Republican who is now registered without a party affiliation, ran for Los Angeles County district attorney, breaking a highly publicized promise to serve two terms at City Hall before seeking another office. He decided to go for a second term as city attorney after failing to make it past the county's June primary election. Many observers attribute his current campaign struggles to the ill-fated decision to run for district attorney before finishing his first city attorney term.
Trutanich has said his campaign for district attorney was "a mistake," but he argues that he has served the city well and deserves another term.
Interviews with some of those surveyed in the USC Price/L.A. Times poll found a lack of enthusiasm for either candidate, even among those who said they had made up their minds.
"I hate full-time politicians," said Joshua Mayo, 48, a laborer who lives in Hollywood. But he said he would vote for Feuer because "he seems to have done some good things." Suzanne Brewer, 50, of North Hills, a paralegal, prefers Trutanich as "the least of the worst" and because of his experience as a prosecutor.
John Short, a 35-year-old bookkeeper who lives in Hollywood, likes Trutanich because "he is somebody in office who seems to be doing all right … so we might as well keep him in." Fred Dee, 67, of Koreatown, said he prefers Feuer because he voted for Trutanich four years ago "and I've been disappointed."
"It's time for new blood to come in; that's the main thing," Dee said.