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Eric Garcetti's Campaign Mantra, 'No Unforced Errors,' Helped Win Race For Mayor

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ERIC GARCETTI CAMPAIGN MANTRA
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A focused, disciplined campaign delivered the Los Angeles mayor's office to Eric Garcetti, who beat Wendy Greuel by sticking to a consistent message and a strategic spending plan. He also benefitted greatly from his rival's early missteps.

At the heart of the city councilman's campaign to become mayor of the nation's second-biggest city was a strict mantra: "No unforced errors." The baseball phrase was repeated at Garcetti's Studio City campaign headquarters and reiterated in staff meetings and phone calls.

The message reminded Garcetti's team that Greuel's deep-pocketed allies would exploit mistakes, and the media scrutiny would be intense. As the councilman emerged as the frontrunner after the primary and Greuel's team faltered, the mantra took on more urgency.

"We started from the beginning: 'No mistakes'," said Bill Carrick, Garcetti's strategist. "At the end, we got religious about it."

Garcetti declined to comment. But in interviews, consultants and political strategists described Garcetti's seemingly smooth rise past Greuel, whose advantages included big name endorsements and millions in outside spending.

They paint Garcetti as a candidate who grew more confident as the race progressed. Intense campaign fundraising efforts, and key tactical decisions played a part in his victory.

Garcetti honed a simple message, focused on restoring city services and job growth. The campaign message was repeated nearly every day, at neighborhood press conferences in Garcetti's district, in areas like Hollywood, Atwater Village or Echo Park.

Paired with Garcetti's positive narrative of economic growth was a negative one on campaign money. Carrick and Garcetti's spokesman Jeff Millman had just finished running Rep. Lois Capps' winning congressional campaign in Santa Barbara, a race where spending by special interest groups proved toxic to voters.

"We were in the SuperPAC ground zero of the world in Santa Barbara," said Carrick. "We learned that SuperPACs never quite get on message. And we learned that people don't like them."

Garcetti's spotlight on the Department of Water and Power union's SuperPAC, which helped raise millions to back Greuel, quickly proved effective at dragging down his rival.

During the primary, candidates attorney Kevin James and City Councilwoman Jan Perry attacked Greuel during debates over the outside spending. Garcetti sometimes sided with Perry during those debates, complimenting her on plans or stances. His campaign also reached out to James in early December to cement a friendship, helping build a coalition against Greuel.

Greuel strategist John Shallman said the attacks from James and Perry, and the DWP union issue were devastating. The camp's internal polling showed Greuel down by about 10 points after the March primary, he said, as Republican voters deserted her.

Additionally, in the primary, Greuel's central message -- of finding $160 million in savings through her audits as city controller -- had effectively fallen apart. Then, when Greuel announced a goal of adding 2,000 cops to the city, Garcetti suddenly looked more hawkish on the budget than the city's financial watchdog.

As the Greuel team regrouped for the runoff against Garcetti, his campaign was already in expansion mode.

His Latinos for Garcetti push was an immense operation, according to political observers, essentially a campaign within a campaign. Run by Garcetti staff, the group held its own fundraisers and events. Additionally, Garcetti launched television ads in Spanish. While they put out Spanish -language mailers, Greuel's campaign never ran a Spanish-language TV spot.

Garcetti also insisted his team run a heavy Facebook and Twitter presence, Carrick said. Greuel's campaign outsourced some of that work to a Portland, Oregon-based firm.

Both Greuel's husband, Dean Schramm, and Garcetti's wife, Amy Wakeland, were heavily involved in their spouses' campaign, sources say. In Wakeland, Garcetti had a "brilliant tactician," said his father, Gil Garcetti, who called her the campaign's "secret weapon."

Wakeland, who'd worked on Howard Dean's presidential run, was involved in nearly all aspects of her husband's campaign, including scheduling. She helped Garcetti land an endorsement from the California chapter of National Organization for Women, crucial backing given his opponent's gender.

There were low points for Garcetti, however, such as the loss of the Los Angeles Police Protective League endorsement, which would spend more than $1 million on Greuel. Additionally, in early April, President Obama's press secretary, Jay Carney, announced the president, who had a professional relationship with Garcetti, wouldn't endorse in the race.

While Garcetti had previously brushed off the notion of Obama's endorsement, Carney's announcement seemed unexpected. Reporters were left with the impression the White House wasn't communicating with Garcetti's campaign.

Another setback came when Garcetti not only lost the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor endorsement, but was berated by DWP union heads Marvin Kropke and Brian D'Arcy during the interview. The two men, who helped raise more than $4 million for Greuel, were angry at Garcetti for criticizing the union, according to numerous sources in the room.

As Garcetti responded, Kropke told the councilman: "Don't Rhodes Scholar me, don't wordsmith me," the put-down referencing Garcetti's education.

Garcetti was unruffled, according to a source in the room. "He was just very stoic, very respectful," said the source, who declined to be named because of the closed door nature of the meeting. Kropke didn't return a call.

Despite failing to garner big endorsements, Garcetti outraised Greuel by $1 million in the general election, in part through a schedule that included three or four fundraisers on some days. That money would prove crucial in the last month of the race.

By spending heavily after the primary, Greuel saw her polling numbers temporarily rise.

But Garcetti's campaign kept to a plan to spend heavily at the end of the race, Carrick said. The move allowed Garcetti to dominate the airwaves--with a spot linking Greuel to the DWP union--in the days before the election after his rival ran out of money.

Over lunch in Sherman Oaks this week, Shallman praised Garcetti's fundraising abilities. He also defended his decision to spend money early, saying it revived a campaign that had stalled earlier in the race.

Shallman blamed much of Greuel's defeat on the presence of Perry and James in the primary. He waved off criticisms over some campaign decisions, such as when Greuel challenged Garcetti to an education debate with two hours' notice. Shallman said the campaign was being aggressive on a topic important to Greuel.

"He's a very talented politician," Shallman said, of Garcetti. "And there is no substitute on some level for having a candidate who can stay disciplined on message, and debate well, and have a grasp of what the picture is, and what I need to do every single day to move the ball forward. ... But he also benefitted by circumstances."

In the final days before voters went to the polls, James campaigned with Garcetti. Across town, the Greuel camp had launched a new attack, one that blamed the councilman for a rising number of rapes in Hollywood.

Garcetti ignored the assaults, James said, never allowing himself to be baited as Greuel hit him over a DWP-related email, or for taking money from a felon. Her attacks were clumsy, the Garcetti camp contends, done without fact-checking.

As the former Republican candidate and Garcetti worked the crowds the last weekend, the councilman stayed disciplined, sticking to his message, James said. "There was little focus on what Greuel was doing," James said. "That depicted the confidence he had going into election day."

Eric Hacopian, a political consultant who represented Perry in the race, believes the Greuel campaign had many self-inflicted wounds, like her 2,000 cops plan that Garcetti's camp "just had to sit back and become the anti-Wendy Greuel."

"Which isn't to say Eric won by default," he added. "It's not easy not to make mistakes. Eric never committed any unforced errors. Wendy didn't do anything but commit unforced errors." ___

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