How does a candidate polling at 2% six weeks before a mayoral primary in the nation’s second-largest city make a play for attention?
For City Atty. Mike Feuer — an L.A. mayoral candidate who has struggled to gain traction despite getting into the race more than a year before other leading contenders — the answer appears to come in the form of a dachshund named Martin.
In a new ad released Monday, Feuer tools around the city with the dog as the word “underdog” blares in the background. The 30-second spot touts Feuer’s political accomplishments, including his work in extracting a $185-million settlement from Wells Fargo after the bank created as many as 2.1 million unauthorized customer accounts.
Until this point, local TV has been dominated by a single candidate: billionaire developer Rick Caruso, who has put $16 million into his campaign and made his message ubiquitous on local airwaves. One recent poll showed him and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) in a dead heat for first place in the race, with 40% undecided.
Feuer and his team are betting big on the underdog message — they’ve placed a roughly $1-million TV and digital ad buy over the next two weeks, according to a screenshot of the buy shared with The Times.
Meanwhile, a candidate who has trailed slightly behind Feuer in the polls disclosed Monday that he has put an additional $2.5 million into his own mayoral bid.
Businessman Ramit Varma, who has been running on bringing a data-driven approach to City Hall, called television advertising a “highly inefficient” way of reaching voters. He plans to direct his money into billboards, digital advertising and radio spots.
Varma, a resident of Encino, said he has now put $4 million of his own funds into his campaign. He described Bass and Caruso, not Feuer or the others, as his true competitors.
“I want it to be known to the people that there is a third option — a businessman who isn’t an out-of-touch billionaire, a person of color who isn’t a defund-the-police progressive,” he said.
The latter comment is partly a dig at Bass, who has repeatedly said that she does not support defunding the police — and called it “probably one of the worst slogans ever” in June 2020. She has called for the hiring of hundreds of additional police officers.
An independent expenditure committee supporting Bass’ mayoral bid released a digital ad earlier this month. The committee’s chair, Morgan Miller, has said the ad will also go on TV before the primary.
Representatives for two other candidates — Councilman Joe Buscaino and Councilman Kevin de León — have said that their campaigns plan to air TV ads before the primary.
Feuer’s commercial was created by Putnam Partners, the same company that created a three-minute-long campaign video last year told from the perspective of the city attorney’s mustache. (Actor Jason Alexander provided voiceover as Feuer’s trademark facial hair in that 2021 video.)
The “underdog” ad appears on broadcast and cable TV, social media and digital ads, according to the campaign.
It’s a major gamble for the ailing Feuer campaign: According to Feuer strategist John Shallman, the $1-million sum is “pretty close” to everything the campaign currently has in the bank, though Shallman says they are still waiting on some matching funds and have “backloaded” fundraising events in May to replenish their coffers.
“We feel confident that we’re going to be able to stay on the air” beyond the initial two-week buy, Shallman said. “We thought it was very important to get up now, two weeks before voters started receiving ballots.”
Martin, the dog in the ad, is a professional actor. Feuer has previously stated that he has never had a pet.