Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Race to Replace Bob - Looking at the Contenders

With Bob   having finally resigned, and the special election heating up, I think we should look at contenders for the Mayor's race.  But before we do, we have to consider what makes a candidate viable.  A politician is unlike any other type of job because politicians are supposed to be able to gain and wield support of other people (and interest groups) because without such support, politicians can't pass legislation, and can't effectively govern (social contract and all that).  For a candidate, this kind of support comes in two basic forms - money and energy.  

While money is self-explanatory, energy is somewhat more complicated. Energy can mean the level of excitement a candidate brings when giving speeches, or the number of endorsements a candidate brings in.  Good candidates can harness that energy into grassroots campaigning, which, in turn, generates votes more effectively than any other form of campaigning.  Seriously, when I first started working on campaigns, I thought it would be all TV commercials and speeches (a la "The Candidate").  Instead, its walking door-to-door, followed up by direct mail, followed up by telephone calls.  It is mind-numbing, exhausting work, but it works.

Here's the interesting part about money and energy - in every campaign, there is a limited amount of either.  Generally, its the same people who give money to campaigns, and the same people who volunteer in campaigns. While Obama blew everything out of whack by getting more people involved, a municipal city election such as this is going to have limited money and energy.  So, certain candidates (and you will see this below), are going to take money and energy away from other candidates. 

The Contenders

Kevin Falconer (R): A couple of weeks ago, the various right of center types came together to find out who their candidate was going to be. As a result, Kevin Falconer stepped in to run and Carl DeMaio* and Ron Roberts (both Republicans) stepped out. As a result all the conservative money that backed DeMaio in the last race is going towards Falconer.  So, he'll get money.  But, will he have any energy? I'm not sure. Thus far, his main legislative accomplishment was banning booze from San Diego's beaches.  Beyond that, I don't know much about him, except that he lost to Michael Zucchet for his Council seat, and then when Zucchet was wrongfully forced to resign, Falconer beat none other than Lorena Gonzalez in the Special Election.  

*By the way, I think that Filner might have held onto office as long as he did to screw over DeMaio.  If Filner resigned in July, the special election probably would take place sometime in October, with the run-off in January.  By waiting until the end of August, Filner made sure the special election occurred later (November/February), and that didn't give DeMaio enough time to run for Mayor and turn around and run for Congress if he lost.

Nathan Fletcher (D-ish): As I tell most people, Fletcher is a little ray of sunshine. And I mean that in non-sarcastically.  He's one of those types who is genuine, charming, and appears to be a great guy. Little wonder that Fletcher had a cabal of fairly well-connected supporters join him in leaving the Republican party.  And they are going to keep supporting him. That's why Fletcher the independent was the number 1 recruitment target of the San Diego Democratic Party (among others).  He fits in a long line of high level candidates San Diego Labor stashes away - Mike Zucchet, Lorena Gonzalez, etc - and the people who dealt with him in the past, absolutely love him.  Of all the candidates, he has the most energy in this race.  Add to that the money lining his campaign coffers, and Fletcher is a serious, serious candidate.  

His one weakness is the matter of timing.  Had Filner lasted a complete term, Fletcher would have had a full four years of being a Democrat under his belt, and made more inroads with the Progressive left. So, Labor has been split in supporting him.  

With that said, Fletcher is way, way out of the gate already.  He has a website, volunteers to walk door-to-door for him. He probably has a consultant, and almost certainly has letterhead.  Not only is he gathering energy, he's using it effectively, and doing it before everyone else.  This is a big advantage and shows how much energy Fletcher has already.

David Alvarez (D): The City Councilmember from San Diego's southern-most district is the progressive that a lot of lefties were hoping for. Here's the thing - I know next to nothing about David Alvarez. I do know that he beat back the South Bay political machine that elected the last three City Councilmembers from his District, and he did so by being a strong progressive.  He's been backed by the San Diego Labor Council (with the exception of the SD Police, Firefighters, Municipal Employees and Lifeguards, all of whom support Fletcher), and will probably be supported by a fair number of other progressive organizations.  Since he has such strong support, he will be a player, but unless he gets his grassroots operation up and running now, he will have a lot of trouble becoming mayor.  That said, Alvarez may be running to raise his profile. 

Mike Aguirre (D): Aguirre is a wild card. As the former City Attorney (who lost to Jan Goldsmith in 2008), Mike was the wrecking ball of City politics, who did a lot of good things, but mostly pissed people off.  He's sort of like Filner, but without the good constituent relations and awful treatment of women.  Now normally Aguirre would be deemed a minor candidate but for one very important detail - Mike is independently wealthy.  He can self-fund his campaign.  As a result, he doesn't need San Diego Labor, or anyone to run, and it makes him a player.  He also fits into the ass-kicking reformer that San Diegans wanted when they picked DeMaio and Filner as their candidates for Mayor in 2012.  The only real issue with Mike is whether or not he can harness the energy that his money creates for him.  

Lori Saldana (D): Here's the thing about Lori - when she first ran for State Assembly, she was the 3rd choice of the powers that be.  The first two choices - Vince Hall and Heidi von Szeliski - ran such a negative and relentless campaign that they killed each other's chances, and pushed Lori to the forefront. In other words, she was the accidental State Assemblymember.  That said, Lori was smart, and positioned herself well in that campaign.  In this campaign, however, I don't see how she gains any traction.  All the progressive liberal types are going to back Alvarez (who has the benefit of not endorsing Filner while knowing that he harassed several women, unlike Lori), and all the other Dems are going to back Fletcher.  So, I suspect that Lori will mirror her original Assembly campaign and hope she positions herself correctly, which she won't.

So, with all that said, we're in for an interesting race ahead.

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