Special Mayoral Election 2013: Winners and Losers

Brian Brady Brian Brady

If you went to bed at 8 p.m. last night and just woke up, Kevin Faulconer won the special election for San Diego Mayor by 10 points and Proposition B in Solana Beach passed by a slim margin. As San Diego puts the Filner era behind us, let’s consider who won big last night and who lost:

Kevin Faulconer is a big winner. Faulconer ran a campaign which focused on his ability to lead all San Diegans. It looks like he won the majority of the vote of Republicans, non-partisan affiliated voters, and Democrats.  Faulconer took the Republican reform messages to neighborhoods which typically don’t vote Republican and convinced African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and Asian-Americans, who have traditionally voted for Democrats, to vote for him. He didn’t let negative attacks take him off message, laid out his vision, and convinced a changing electorate to embrace a freedom agenda.

David Alvarez lost an election but I wouldn’t call him a loser. He had an uphill battle after the Bob Filner fiasco and made the mistake of pandering to the progressive wing of the local Democratic Party. He needs a lot more experience if he wants to govern at the level of mayor or above. Some “real world,” private sector experience also wouldn’t hurt him. He sounded confused on the Mike Slater Show, in an interview after he cancelled a debate with Faulconer, when asked basic economic questions. Being on the wrong side of financial reform and taxes made him look like a “faculty lounge Democrat.”

Tony Krvaric is a winner. While Filner started collapsing, Krvaric made the smart decision to keep quiet. He restrained the local Republican Party from getting involved, avoiding the appearance of impropriety. He kept in contact with donors, potential candidates to replace Filner, and volunteers, while helping to build a coalition around a good candidate with a plan to win. He followed Faulconer’s lead and built new relationships with communities which historically haven’t voted Republican.  Krvaric rallied the Republican volunteers to get out the vote by stressing that this election was about more than winning City Hall.

Francine Busby lost big.  She mismanaged the Filner fiasco and made the local Democratic Party look like it cared more about aggregating power than protecting women.  Donna Frye and Marco Gonzalez are not interlopers; they’re hard-core Democrats who knew this could have lasting effects on the local brand.  Busby was dealt a wild card with Nathan Fletcher but her poor leadership produced a rift within the party faithful.  Encouraging restraint rather than endorsement, in the fall special  election, might have erected a “big tent”.  Today, the local Democratic Party looks like its beholden to the anti-business, progressive wing.

T.J. Zane and the Lincoln Club won.  The non-partisan but right-leaning business PAC helped  build a coalition for Faulconer.  Zane was able to raise money and elect a reform candidate who supports pension reform, managed competition, and regulatory relief.  The Lincoln Club was able to highlight one candidate’s “flexible” principles in the fall election and another candidate’s hostility towards the business community in yesterday’s election.  San Diegans want jobs and the Lincoln Club was able to remind them that entrepreneurs, rather than government, creates those jobs.

Mickey Kasparian and organized labor lost.  They played a purity card in the fall campaign by backing the long shot Alvarez early.  It was a big gamble which required millions of outside dollars and produced a loss of influence at City Hall.  Kasparian resented that Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez backed Fletcher and was more focused on showing everyone “who was labor boss” rather than trying to establish a relationship with the new Democrat Fletcher.

Nathan Fletcher lost but he’ll be back. He endorsed Alvarez right after he conceded the fall election and passed his “loyalty test” for the local Democratic faithful. His future as a city-wide candidate is suspect but don’t be surprised if he attempts a state-wide race in 2016 or 2018. Republicans can’t play the “he switched” card against him now and will defeat him on experience and policy in the future.

Carl DeMaio won. He made a good strategic decision to stick with his bid for Congress and endorse Faulconer. His message of reform resonates with the CD 52 voters in San Diego. Mayor-Elect Faulconer will endorse and support him and, barring a scandal at City Hall (which is highly unlikely),  Faulconer’s support will raise DeMaio’s appeal to independent voters and pro-business Democrats.  Peters, like all pro-Obamacare Congressman, is going to have to deal with angry voters in November.  DeMaio can throw elbows in this campaign, highlight that he is a fighter, and Faulconer can say that he really wants a fighter to represent him in Congress.

Todd Gloria won. He was a good interim Mayor, endorsed his party’s candidate, and gets high marks from the local media. He’s young so I expect him to be a front runner to challenge Faulconer in 2016. While defeating an incumbent, with bi-partisan appeal, experience and leadership qualities will be nearly impossible, expect local Democrats to look to Gloria to challenge Mayor-Elect Faulconer or run for a statewide race in 2016.

National and Statewide Democrats lost. President Obama,  Governor Brown, DNC Chair Wasserman-Schultz, Senator Feinstein, and Senator Boxer all endorsed a man they probably didn’t know. It looked phony and heavy-handed. Can you remember when President Bush endorsed then-mayor candidate Jerry Sanders in the special election of 2005? Oh wait, that didn’t happen. That didn’t happen because President Bush was prosecuting the global war on terror. Presidents usually do national and international things.

Revolvis Consulting won. They ran a great campaign by reaching out to non-Republican voters.  They’ll have their mettle tested twice more in the City Council races and, if they win both of those, the consensus will be that they understand San Diego voters better than most consulting firms.

The Solana Beach City Council lost. Every one of the Council members voted to enact a restrictive policy and conduct an expensive special election.  Rather than adopt a pilot policy which would grant reasonable access to the community center, they decided to show 2,500 citizens who was boss. The Council dug in its heels on it’s “compromise half-access plan” and voted to conduct a special election, which cost $200,000. In the end, Proposition B was more about a repudiation of the City Council than an arcane policy. Mayor Campbell and former Mayor Nichols face re-election in November and if this populist revolt takes root, the Solana Beach voters will entertain Republicans to challenge the all-Democratic Council.

Republican volunteers won. The news of our death is highly exaggerated. The San Diego Mayoral election demonstrated that our local party can come together and elect our candidates in an environment that isn’t always friendly to us. As much as the Faulconer campaign deserves credit for a great win, Republican volunteers outhustled, outperformed, and outshone their counterparts on the other side of the aisle. Victory is fleeting and being a California Republican is to perpetually push a boulder up a hill, but yesterday shows that hard work and dedication pays off.

Congratulations to all who “won” yesterday. I woke up this morning in Solana Beach and traveled to San Diego for work today. Let’s just say both cities felt a little bit more free today than they did yesterday.

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