LOS ANGELES – Antonio Villaraigosa (search) was elected mayor with record Hispanic turnout, but his decisive victory over Mayor James Hahn (search) saw him claim significant support across a wide range of demographic and geographic groups, an exit poll found.
The Los Angeles Times poll found that Hispanics (search) made up 25 percent of voters in Tuesday's election, up from 22 percent in the 2001 mayoral race, in which the same two candidates were on the runoff ballot.
A swell of ethnic pride helped bring out Hispanics, 84 percent of whom chose Villaraigosa. When he is sworn in July 1, Villaraigosa will become Los Angeles' first Hispanic mayor since 1872.
"I said from the beginning our goal was to increase participation in every community. The fact that Latinos voted in the numbers that they did is a great thing," Villaraigosa said Thursday.
But that only begins to explain his 17-percentage-point victory. Hahn lost ground among a spectrum of voters compared to four years ago, weakened by a City Hall ethics scandal and a low-key public image.
Even many of Hahn's supporters expressed reservations about the incumbent, according to the Times' survey of 3,191 voters leaving polling places. Nearly 60 percent of Hahn's supporters said they considered him the lesser of two evils; only about a third of Villaraigosa's backers felt the same way about their candidate.
Villaraigosa convincingly captured one of two crucial battlegrounds, the San Fernando Valley, reversing the outcome there from 2001, the poll found. The two Democrats split the vote in South Los Angeles, a diverse area with a large black population where Hahn enjoyed a 2-1 advantage in 2001.
Hahn slipped even among his core supporters: Republicans, conservatives, Asian-Americans and the elderly.
The exit poll's margin of error was plus or minus 2 percentage points.
Villaraigosa's victory came more than a decade after Hispanics became the biggest ethnic group in the city. Los Angeles is now 48 percent Hispanic, 31 percent white, 11 percent Asian and 10 percent black.