The only thing you can definitively say at this point about the race to succeed Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is that any one of four people can win it.
“It’s a wide open race,” said political scientist Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University. (Guerra also sits on KPCC's board.)
The Center released a poll Monday that showed L.A. City Controller Wendy Greuel, City Councilmember Eric Garcetti and L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky in a statistical tie. Each garnered between 21 percent and 24 percent support in a survey of registered voters who are watching the race close enough to have a choice. The margin of error was 3 percent.
Yaroslavsky is not yet a candidate for mayor, but has said he may run. The primary is in March 2013.
The fourth candidate who could be the next mayor, according to this poll, is Councilwoman Jan Perry. She showed significant support, with 18 percent of respondents supporting her. Perry, an African-American who represents parts of downtown and South L.A., garnered support from more than half of black voters surveyed.
Where was Austin Beutner, the multimillionaire former investment banker who served as Villaraigosa’s first deputy mayor and jobs czar for 18 months? The poll found 2 percent backed Beutner.
“It’s mostly been the political class that’s talked about him,” Guerra said.
In 1993, former Mayor Richard Riordan was also in single digits early in the race, but he faced weaker competition and a more conservative L.A. voter base. Beutner may have to start spending big money early to make himself a viable candidate.
Beutner should take solace in one poll result: among all registered voters, nearly 60 percent remain undecided.
“The vast majority of Angelenos are still not focused on the race,” Guerra said.
Guerra said two other results from the poll are interesting. First, Garcetti does well among Latinos — 40 percent back him. The next closest candidate is Perry, with 26 percent.
“Increasingly, people understand that Eric Garcetti is Latino,” Guerra said. Garcetti’s paternal grandparents were born in Mexico.
To some, Garcetti may look Caucasian. Latinos and anyone familiar with the community know better, Guerra said.
“When you watch telenovelas, there are a lot of characters that look like Eric Garcetti,” he said. “When we watch soccer, many of them are Argentines with Italian last names.”
Garcetti, 41, also did surprisingly well with women, Guerra said. The poll found he split that vote with Greuel and Perry, who are vying to become L.A.’s first woman mayor.
Greuel does well across two key demographics, Guerra said. She polls strongly with both men and women. She draws support from her base in the San Fernando Valley and elsewhere in the city.
The only Republican in the race, former assistant U.S. attorney and conservative talk radio host Kevin James, won 7 percent support in the poll.
One of the big questions in the mayor’s race remains whether Yaroslavsky, a longtime political player, jumps into it. So far, he’s been coy.
“I think he’s going to run,” Guerra said. He admitted his opinion was based more on hope than any inside information.
“I think he would add to the whole public policy discussion,” he said. “I think he would make the race a lot more interesting for us analysts and pundits.”
Some analysts have wondered whether the 63-year-old Yaroslavsky, who has not been in a competitive race in decades, is up for what could be a bruising mayoral battle.
Guerra said the supervisor may rusty when it comes to races, but “has incredible name ID” and “he’s never shied away from taking on opponents” in politics.
The poll did not ask voters about developer Rick Caruso, who has said he too is considering a run for mayor.