Now that Antonio Villaraigosa has finally turned his attention to unseating Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn, the question is whether he's too late.

With only four months to go before the mayoral primary, the L.A. city councilman is well behind in fundraising, has lost much of his labor support, and leads a campaign organization that's still feeling its way.

What Villaraigosa does have going for him, however, is name recognition much of it the result of his unsuccessful run for mayor four years ago as well as a solid base of support among Latinos and progressives.

And unlike the 18-months-plus marathon that's required for a presidential run, a candidate running for mayor of Los Angeles can make quick headway, provided there's enough cash in the bank.

"We got a late start, but since we got in, we've raised money at a record clip, we've gotten major endorsements and we're continuing to reach out to a broad cross-section of Los Angeles voters," Villaraigosa said last week in an interview.

Opponents may question the commitment to his candidacy, in light of his role as co-chairman of John Kerry's presidential campaign and the speculation about a major appointment had the Massachusetts senator won.

But Hahn also has his own challenges, including the ongoing federal investigations into the city's contracting practices, in which the mayor's office has been subpoenaed for documents. Should the investigations lead to indictments, they could leave Hahn politically damaged.

Otherwise, it's considered a good bet that the mayor will at least make it to a runoff. That leaves the four other major candidates to duke it out for the second spot. With a series of private polls putting Villaraigosa at anywhere between 20 percent and 30 percent support, he's in reasonably good shape as the campaign goes into full swing.

'Significant block'

"Of all the candidates, he has the most established electoral constituency. Even with his late start, he comes in with a significant block of voters who know him and think well of him," said Raphael Sonenshein, a professor of political science at California State University Fullerton who has written extensively on L.A. politics.

"It's going to take at least 25 percent of the vote this time around, if not 30 percent, to make the runoff," Sonenshein said. "He's going to have to get the lion's share of the Latino vote and battle Hertzberg for the liberal Westside vote that he won last time."

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