George Gascón Holds Steady Lead in Crowded L.A. County District Attorney Race

Elgin Nelson

The primary for the Los Angeles County District Attorney is currently underway, featuring a crowded field of 12 candidates. Despite a low approval rating and two recall attempts, Gascón maintains a steady lead with 15% of the vote, while Jonathan Hatami secures the second spot with 8%.

However, a significant 64% of likely voters remain undecided, according to a recent poll by Cal Poly Pomona, Cal State University Long Beach, and the University of Southern California.

“The large field is the best thing that’s ever happened to [Gascón] for sure,” said Jim Newton, a UCLA lecturer. “With that many candidates, 15, 20% gets you the runoff. I think Gascón, barring something catastrophic between now and Election Day, he can probably count on that. He can get re-elected with a very low approval rating based more on the structure of the campaign than on his popularity.”

Gascón, who has weathered two recall attempts, enjoys support from progressive Democrats. Still, criticisms regarding his perceived leniency on crime and concerns about the county’s safety have attracted formidable challengers.

Notably, businessman and former Los Angeles mayoral candidate Rick Caruso, an outspoken Gascón critic, has endorsed Chemerinsky as the candidate to advance to the runoff. Chemerinsky holds the fourth place spot with 2% of the vote.

Since taking office in December 2020, Gascón implemented directives to reduce mass incarceration and racial disparities in the justice system. However, critics argue that these policies have contributed to a surge in property crimes, including thefts and burglaries, turning Gascón into a controversial figure on the political right.

It’s essential to note that the district attorney’s policies are just one factor influencing crime trends. In Los Angeles, violent crime has decreased by 3.2% over the past two years, while property crime has increased by 3.5%, aligning with trends seen in cities with both conservative and liberal district attorneys across the nation.

Key issues in the race include debates on whether to charge juveniles as adults, address retail theft, and the potential repeal of Prop 47. This proposition reduced penalties for low-level theft and drug offenses by altering the criteria for charging crimes as misdemeanors instead of felonies.

“The reality is that when Prop 47 passed in 2014, crime continued to go down at record levels, and there has been multiple studies concerning Prop 47,” said Gascon. “Not a single study has found causation between the threshold between a misdemeanor and a felony on Prop 47 and any type of crime.”

If no candidate secures more than 50% of the vote, a runoff will occur after the primary. Given the substantial number of candidates, this outcome seems likely, leading to a November runoff between the top two finishers.

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