The Kevin James Revolution will be televised
Outspoken Los Angeles conservative radio host Kevin James’ brash, media-savvy campaign for the city’s mayoralty is picking up steam as the race gains national attention, raising the hopes of his young volunteers and gaining the admiration of the “torch-and-pitchfork voters” that James calls his base.
The mayoral race, which is officially nonpartisan, pits James against three entrenched Democratic politicians: city council president Eric Garcetti, city council member Jan Perry and city controller Wendy Gruel. The primary will be held Tuesday, but if none of the candidates gains a majority of the vote – which is expected – the run-off election will be held May 21.
An openly gay and locally famous late-night talk radio host for nearly a decade until 2011, James has positioned himself as both the outsider in the race and also the voice of the city’s private sector, criticizing the unions and taking some pointed jabs at the Democratic establishment currently running City Hall.
“I would spend more time in Los Angeles than Villaraigosa, certainly,” James told The Daily Caller with a laugh, referring to Los Angeles’ current mayor.
Though his themes of “giving the private sector a voice at City Hall” and conducting “arm’s-length negotiations with city-employee unions” has growing support in a city in danger of bankruptcy, James has so far had to employ unconventional tactics in getting his message out.
James scored a headline-grabbing, if somewhat bizarre, hit this week with a new Internet ad depicting opponents Garcetti and Gruel, portrayed by actors, driving to an open field in the middle of the night and burying “bodies” representing city projects like the parking revenue fund and the sidewalk repair fund, which the ad claims were killed in favor of pay raises and redecorated city offices.
“They’ve been doing the dirty work in city hall for 22 years,” intones a deep-throated narrator in the ad, as “Garcetti” and “Gruel” drive the city’s streets searching for their body-dumping site. “Corruption is the way of life in city hall. Most of their work has been done outside of the public eye. Behind closed doors.”
Garcetti quickly laughed off the ad, joking, “I told Kevin: ‘We’re going to bury you. We’re going to bury the competition.’” Gruel’s campaign similarly joked, “”If the Kevin James campaign falls in a forest can anyone hear it?”
But James is convinced that he’s going to have the last laugh – and that alternative media is going to help him get it. While Gruel counts support in the Valley, which is where insiders predict most of the vote to be concentrated, and Garcetti is a major political and cocktail-party figure in Hollywood, James’ base is a citywide coalition bound together only by shared sentiment – and by radio.
“I’m going to hold all of the Republicans together in a very low turnout race. We’re going to see less than 340,000 votes across the board. There are a lot of people who are familiar with me for my media career covering City Hall,” James told TheDC.
“The radio industry in large part is a very important medium. Those are people who listen to these radio shows that talk about me constantly, and criticize my opponents consistently. I don’t have to buy into that medium,” James said.
“I have the torch-and-pitchfork voters, the ones who will not vote for anyone in City Hall,” James added.
To punctuate his strategy, James appeared this month on The Adam Carolla Show, one of the most popular podcasts in the world. The mov excited the college-aged volunteers manning the fraternity-style phone-banking operation James has set up near the UCLA campus.
“I’m getting a Scott Brown–pickup truck–dark horse vibe from Kevin James at the #LADebate,” one Twitter user opined last month.
Though his campaign has lagged far behind Garcetti’s and Gruel’s in fundraising, James has another important ace in the hole: the financial backing of legendary Dallas-based billionaire and Republican donor Harold Simmons, who has already dropped more than $600,000 in television spots promoting James.
With Gruel’s internal polling showing her in the lead, and with Garcetti’s background as a Columbia-educated Rhodes Scholar making him the traditional media favorite, it remains unclear how far James’ outsider appeal will carry him. Recent blue-state Republican candidates like Sean Bielat, who waged a social-media campaign to “Keep Congress Kennedy-Free” when running against Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III in Massachusetts last year, were unable to carry underdog media showmanship into office. But for the time being, James seems to be enjoying playing the antagonist.
“[Garcetti] ran a city council that had a 95 percent unanimous voting record. They even had automatic ‘yes’ voting software so they could be out and about and still vote ‘yes.’ In a city as diverse as Los Angeles, that’s ridiculous,” James said.
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