As the race for city attorney winds down, insiders are poring over poll data and other indicators with one question in mind: Will incumbent Carmen Trutanich make the runoff?
Most observers consider former Assemblyman Mike Feuer the front-runner, likely to finish first in a field of four candidates -- himself, Trutanich and private lawyers Greg Smith and Noel Weiss. Feuer is endorsed by a host of leading officials, including Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (he also was endorsed by the Los Angeles Times). Feuer has raised twice as much money as Trutanich and has waged a steady, assertive campaign challenging Trutanich's fitness for office.
Trutanich appears to have risen to the bait and has focused most of his efforts on attacking Feuer -- arguing, for instance, that Feuer's lack of trial experience would make him a weak city attorney. That tactic may be emotionally satisfying -- there's no love lost between these two officials, and Feuer's political consultant, John Shallman, used to work for Trutanich, so there's bad blood there too -- but it's politically puzzling. That's because the focus on Feuer has done little to blunt the assemblyman's momentum while giving Smith a virtual free pass in recent weeks. That has raised the possibility that Trutanich could finish third, effectively ending his political career.
ENDORSEMENTS: Los Angeles City Elections 2013
While Trutanich focused on Feuer, Smith has quietly picked up the endorsement of the Daily News, and private polls show that he has pockets of support in the San Fernando Valley (in part because some voters mistakenly think he's former Councilman Greig Smith) and among African Americans, no doubt in part because of his career suing government agencies for discrimination. One not terribly scientific poll recently showed Smith trailing Trutanich and Feuer by a few percentage points, but Trutanich was trending downward and Smith upward. Weiss, meantime, has raised no money and does not register in any poll I've seen.
One Smith supporter I talked to last week said he was mystified -- but delighted -- at Trutanich's approach, and said he now regards the campaign as a dead heat between those two, with Feuer the favorite to finish first.
"Nuch," as he's known, is a personable candidate and has the incumbency behind him, so it would be foolish for anyone to count him out. But he lost his bid for district attorney last year without even making it to the runoff, and he could be facing that fate again.
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Jim Newton’s column appears Mondays. His latest book is "Eisenhower: The White House Years." Reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter: @newton_jim.