The Los Angeles County voters who elected Alex Villanueva sheriff in 2018 might not be the ones who give him another four years in office.
That's because Villanueva, a Democrat, is eyeing the Latino vote and widespread concern about public safety to carry him to reelection on June 7.
Four years ago, progressive voters helped Villanueva become the first Democrat and Spanish speaker to win the sheriff job in more than a century. They liked his promises to cut ties with federal immigration enforcement, crack down on department corruption, and reduce the prison population.
However, Los Angeles County Democratic Party Chair Mark Gonzalez told Politico that many party members regret supporting Villanueva.
"The same people that helped fund and put you forward in 2018 are the same people that you're criticizing," Gonzalez said of Villanueva. "My mama taught me 'don't bite the hand that feeds you,' and that's the first thing you're doing."
Villanueva, a former department watch commander, could avoid a general election if he wins more than 50% of the primary votes in the nation's most populous county, which leans left.
A recent BSP Research survey of Los Angeles registered voters found that 55% of Latino voters had a favorable perception of Villanueva, compared to 24% who viewed him unfavorably, Politico reported.
Roughly 40% of Los Angeles County residents of voting age are Latino, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. BSP Research estimated that 1.2 million Latinos, equal to a record turnout for the 2018 presidential election, will cast votes in the general election.
Latino voters, as with other groups, consistently have ranked public safety as a major concern, Politico reported.
The sheriff race appears to be a test of how far Democrat voters are willing to go to support a candidate with a strong-on-crime approach, Politico said.
Villanueva has defended his record as a reformer — he banned the transfer of county inmates to federal immigration custody without a criminal warrant — and also has promoted his ban of deputy gangs in the department, though a civilian oversight commission says it's still a problem.
The sheriff has promised to focus on homelessness and crime in a second term.
Andrew Acosta, a Democrat political consultant, questioned how closely Los Angeles residents have followed media coverage of department scandals — the latest being an attempt to investigate a local reporter for investigating a cover-up in the department.
"Just because he [Villanueva] says outlandish things and columnists in the L.A. Times write about him, I don't know if that makes him a dead man walking," Acosta said.
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