Which voters will decide the next mayor of Los Angeles?
Ironically, Latinos could be the crucial swing bloc -- if Antonio Villaraigosa fails to survive the mayoral vote Tuesday.
Latinos made up about 22% of all voters in the last mayoral election. The latest Los Angeles Times poll shows that about 45% of them back Villaraigosa. That number would probably rise in a head-to-head matchup between Villaraigosa and any of his four major rivals.
Bob Hertzberg's current poll numbers among Latino voters are dismal. About 60% of them surveyed in the Times poll said they either had no opinion on the former Assembly speaker or didn't know enough about him to make a judgment. Five percent supported him.
Mayor James K. Hahn attracted less than 20% of the Latino vote, according to the poll.
So, if Hahn and Hertzberg emerge as the candidates after Tuesday's vote, 75% of Latinos could cast a vote in the runoff for a candidate they did not support in the primary.
With Villaraigosa out of the runoff, many Latino voters might stay home. But if it's Hahn versus Hertzberg, both candidates would have compelling cases to make to Latino voters.
The mayor has the endorsements of many of the city's major labor organizations, the heart of Latino political power. News reports suggest that the union rank and file may wait until after the election before committing to one candidate. Labor would view a Hahn-Villaraigosa matchup as a no-lose proposition but would probably rally around the mayor if his opponent were Hertzberg.
But Hertzberg has strong Latino ties too. He worked in the campaigns of Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles) and county Supervisor Gloria Molina when she won an Assembly seat in 1982. He was also treasurer in Villaraigosa's first Assembly campaign. Hertzberg's wife, Cynthia Telles, comes from a groundbreaking Latino political family. Her father was the first Latino elected mayor of a major U.S. city, El Paso.
If the runoff pits Villaraigosa against either Hahn or Hertzberg, the race would look a lot like the 2001 contest. Latino votes would be ceded to Villaraigosa, as would most parts of the Valley to Hahn or Hertzberg. Blacks and Westsiders would determine the outcome. But if Villaraigosa loses Tuesday, Latinos for the first time would be in a position to decide who L.A.'s next mayor will be.