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GOP decline in L.A. puts mayor candidate James at disadvantage

January 15, 2013 |  4:43 pm

  Kevin James Rainey logo

As he strives to become one of the few Republican mayors in Los Angeles history, lawyer and former federal prosecutor Kevin James will be fighting a massive partisan disadvantage.

James argues that, in the officially nonpartisan race, he will benefit from voters looking for a change from the top contenders, all current city officials who he blames for throwing L.A. into a financial morass.

James’ argument may gain traction before the March 5 primary, but he will have to find votes starting with an even smaller partisan base than Richard J. Riordan enjoyed in 1993 when he became the city’s first Republican mayor in decades.

Republican registration in the city has declined from 25.4% of the electorate in 1993 to just 16.2% as of October of last year. The GOP population in the city has declined in real numbers by more than 54,000 and now stands at just 286,000, in a city with almost 1.8 million registered voters.

During the same time period, Democrats have added more than 164,000 voters (56% of those registered) to their rolls. The biggest gains since the ascension of businessman Riordan two decades ago, though, has been among  independents. Those who do not state party preference more than doubled, to almost 326,000, or 18.4% of those registered, according to the secretary of state’s office.

Controller Wendy Greuel, one of the favorites for mayor, has signaled she is concerned about James peeling off some of the centrist to conservative voters in her San Fernando Valley home base. In one debate this month, Greuel invoked a rant by James against President Obama (captured for posterity during his appearance on MSNBC) to suggest James was too extreme for the city.

James campaign manager Jeff Corless argues that the candidate can buck such stereotyping and win votes because James is the one contender who has not been part of the current (financially-challenged) operation at City Hall.

In a low-turnout municipal election, party identification will mean even less, Corless contends. “Every vote is much more valuable,” Corless said. “And with a very robust voter contact program we will turn out the votes we need to make sure he gets into the runoff.”


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-- James Rainey

Photo: Los Angeles mayoral candidate Kevin James speaks during a debate in September with City Councilwoman Jan Perry, left, City Controller Wendy Greuel, second from right, and Councilman Eric Garcetti, right. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Times political writer James Rainey will be filing dispatches from the campaign trail during the 2013 Los Angeles elections season. You can follow him on Twitter: @LATimesrainey