Why the San Diego Mayor’s Race Should Worry Democrats

Liberal groups out-organized and outspent Republicans in a city that’s trending Democratic. Their candidate still lost badly.

National Journal
Scott Bland
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Scott Bland
Feb. 12, 2014, 5:54 a.m.

Re­pub­lic­an Kev­in Faul­con­er’s big win in San Diego’s may­or­al race Tues­day high­lighted the first case of what could be a per­sist­ent Demo­crat­ic prob­lem in 2014: low turnout.

Faul­con­er has a middle-of-the-road repu­ta­tion built for a city that has typ­ic­ally elec­ted GOP may­ors over the past two-plus dec­ades, which helped make him the fa­vor­ite in the spe­cial elec­tion to suc­ceed dis­graced ex-May­or Bob Fil­ner. But Demo­crats also have a 14-point re­gis­tra­tion ad­vant­age over Re­pub­lic­ans in San Diego, which gave Pres­id­ent Obama more than 60 per­cent of its votes in 2012 as it lif­ted the lib­er­al Fil­ner in­to the may­or’s of­fice.

And des­pite help from an enorm­ous field op­er­a­tion look­ing to make those num­bers work for Demo­crat­ic spe­cial-elec­tion can­did­ate Dav­id Al­varez, Faul­con­er still garnered al­most 55 per­cent of the vote as many few­er people cast bal­lots than in 2012.

It’s a prob­lem Demo­crats will be try­ing to solve across the coun­try in 2014, when key groups of sup­port­ers, such as minor­it­ies and un­mar­ried wo­men, are less likely to turn out than in pres­id­en­tial years. It is one of the reas­ons Re­pub­lic­ans are with­in strik­ing dis­tance to re­take the Sen­ate and are heav­ily favored to keep the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives. It’s why Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors such as Mary Landrieu of Louisi­ana, where the Afric­an-Amer­ic­an share of the elect­or­ate dropped by a sixth in the last midterm elec­tion, are en­dangered.

Ma­jor­ity-minor­ity San Diego starts out as more friendly turf for Demo­crats, but the loc­als face the chal­lenge of turn­ing the demo­graph­ic ad­vant­age in­to a polit­ic­al one.

“I would say San Diego’s polit­ics are be­hind its demo­graph­ics, and it’s about wheth­er we can catch up,” San Diego and Im­per­i­al Counties Labor Coun­cil sec­ret­ary-treas­urer Richard Bar­rera said in a pre-elec­tion in­ter­view. His group ran an in­de­pend­ent ex­pendit­ure com­mit­tee that raised and spent more than $3.7 mil­lion on Al­varez’s be­half. “We can nev­er just as­sume that be­cause we’ve got an in­creas­ingly large Latino pop­u­la­tion, Asi­an pop­u­la­tion, young­er pop­u­la­tion, that that will trans­late in­to people vot­ing on Elec­tion Day.”

Turnout levels for this fall’s midterm elec­tions will not drop as sharply as they did for San Diego’s ir­reg­u­lar Feb­ru­ary vote. Any drop tends to work against Demo­crats, al­though the party hopes get-out-the-vote op­er­a­tions and pave­ment-pound­ing labor al­lies can help make up some slack later in 2014.

Nearly 470,000 people voted in the pre­vi­ous San Diego may­or­al race, a massive turnout that co­in­cided with the pres­id­en­tial race, a hotly con­tested con­gres­sion­al elec­tion, and sev­er­al con­sequen­tial statewide bal­lot ini­ti­at­ives. On Tues­day, few­er than 290,000 voters cast bal­lots. That works out to about 43 per­cent of re­gistered voters, at the very bot­tom edge of turnout levels Demo­crats were hop­ing for to cap­it­al­ize on Al­varez’s ap­par­ent surge late in the cam­paign.

Fil­ner’s elec­tion in 2012 was the first win by a Demo­crat since 1988, “and his vic­tory was at­trib­uted in large part to get-out-the-vote ef­forts by labor,” said Tom Shep­ard, a former Fil­ner strategist who also helped elect three pre­vi­ous Re­pub­lic­an may­ors. “But it’s dif­fi­cult to as­sess their im­pact since it was a pres­id­en­tial elec­tion and, ob­vi­ously, that be­nefited labor. They have clearly ap­plied their ef­forts here.”¦ The ques­tion is wheth­er they can win without a pres­id­en­tial elec­tion?”

Demo­crats had big, late hopes of shap­ing the San Diego elect­or­ate just enough to make good on Al­varez’s late surge in mo­mentum and auto­mated polling in the dis­trict. A large chunk of the $5 mil­lion-plus that went in­to Al­varez’s cam­paign and out­side ef­forts was fo­cused on turnout. Bar­rera said his group alone had more than 800 people walk­ing pre­cincts the week­end be­fore the elec­tion, fo­cus­ing on the Demo­crat­ic-lean­ing but lower-turnout neigh­bor­hoods south of In­ter­state 8. Adding in oth­er out­side groups and the Al­varez cam­paign it­self, well over 1,000 Demo­crat­ic field work­ers were comb­ing the city for votes be­fore Elec­tion Day, ac­cord­ing to Bar­rera.

Already, Demo­crats are gear­ing up to make sim­il­ar large-scale ef­forts for 2014’s reg­u­larly sched­uled elec­tions. The Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­ori­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee re­cently laid out plans for a massive $60 mil­lion field op­er­a­tion spread over 10 key states, ac­cord­ing to The New York Times. Not shar­ing the bal­lot with Pres­id­ent Obama may help some mod­er­ate Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors flaunt their in­de­pend­ence, but they will still need help from some voters who don’t typ­ic­ally vote un­less White House con­trol is up for grabs. Last year, Terry McAul­iffe’s suc­cess­ful cam­paign for gov­ernor in Vir­gin­ia touted its use of data and ana­lyt­ics to boost both per­sua­sion and turnout ef­forts among key groups.

In San Diego, labor will get more cracks at win­ning the turnout battle in 2014. There are sev­er­al loc­al bal­lot meas­ures, in­clud­ing an ef­fort to boost the min­im­um wage, that will draw heavy at­ten­tion over the next few months, and Demo­crats’ may­or­al bo­gey­man of 2012, Re­pub­lic­an Carl De­Maio, is run­ning for Con­gress against fresh­man Demo­crat­ic Rep. Scott Peters.

But for now, the may­or’s race is a re­mind­er of how turnout can work against Demo­crats when a pres­id­ent isn’t on the bal­lot.

What We're Following See More »
HE WAS 83
Charles Manson Dead
4 hours ago
THE LATEST

Manson "died Sunday of natural causes, according to the California Department of Corrections. He was 83. ...Manson served nine life terms in California prisons and was denied parole 12 times."

Source:
AT ISSUE: COMEY FIRING, SESSIONS’S RECUSAL
Mueller Seeks Documents from DOJ
13 hours ago
THE LATEST

Special counsel Robert Mueller "is now demanding documents from the department overseeing his investigation." A source tells ABC News that "Mueller's investigators are keen to obtain emails related to the firing of FBI Director James Comey and the earlier decision of Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the entire matter."

Source:
MULVANEY SAYS PROVISION ISN’T A DEALBREAKER
Trump May Be OK with Dropping Mandate Repeal
14 hours ago
THE LATEST

"President Donald Trump would not insist on including repeal of an Obama-era health insurance mandate in a bill intended to enact the biggest overhaul of the tax code since the 1980s, a senior White House aide said on Sunday. The version of tax legislation put forward by Senate Republican leaders would remove a requirement in former President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law that taxes Americans who decline to buy health insurance."

Source:
FRANKEN JUST THE BEGINNING?
Media Devoting More Resources to Lawmakers’ Sexual Misconduct
15 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Members of Congress with histories of mistreating women should be extremely nervous. Major outlets, including CNN, are dedicating substantial newsroom resources to investigating sexual harassment allegations against numerous lawmakers. A Republican source told me he's gotten calls from well-known D.C. reporters who are gathering stories about sleazy members."

Source:
STARTS LEGAL FUND FOR WH STAFF
Trump to Begin Covering His Own Legal Bills
2 days ago
THE DETAILS
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login