For the first time since 1996, Steve Cooley is not on the ballot in the race for L.A. County District Attorney. But tomorrow's election is largely a referendum on his 12 years in office.
His chosen successor, Jackie Lacey, has the backing of the police and political establishment. Her opponent, Alan Jackson, is hoping that voters want something else: an outsider.
"She's saying, 'Vote for me because everyone says vote for me,'" said John Thomas, Jackson's consultant. "We're arguing that's precisely the problem. You want someone with an arm's length distance from the establishment."
Lacey, a Democrat, is embracing Cooley's support with both arms. Last week, the campaign sent out a robocall with a recording of Cooley's voice urging voters to back Lacey.
"It certainly helps that she's affiliated with Steve Cooley," said Parke Skelton, Lacey's consultant. "When I talk to people, that's the one thing they know about her. They say, 'That's the African-American woman who's supported by Steve Cooley.'"
Thomas, however, believes that voters have negative views of almost all their elected officials -- including Cooley. He has tried to portray Jackson, a Republican, as an independent-minded prosecutor, running against a establishment politician or a "bureaucrat."
"Lacey doesn't have to do as heavy a lift as we do," Thomas said. "We had to channel something we know exists, which is that voters don't like the establishment. We feel confident we have."
To get that across, the Jackson campaign has been running this TV ad.
Jackson spent about $300,000 on TV in the first three weeks of October -- not nearly enough to blanket the airwaves. (Update: Thomas says that Jackson spent another $225,000 since Oct. 20, but that figure is not yet reflected in a campaign filing.) Meanwhile, Lacey has stayed off the airwaves and stuck to direct mail.
"They functionally don't have a campaign," Skelton said. "I think we have a huge natural advantage."
Skelton predicted that Lacey would win by at least 10 points.
Thomas didn't venture a prediction, but said that to win Jackson must hold on to the Republican base and get a majority of independents.
"We feel as good as we could feel going into election day," Thomas said. "We think we have the right message. It's a question of were we able to drive that message home enough on paid media."