The Root of All Money

Erica Holloway Erica Holloway 22 Comments


Ayn Rand once asked: “So you think money is the root of all evil. Have you ever asked what is the root of all money?”

Candidates now seek out that answer for the next 12 months in the hopes of being San Diego’s next mayor.

Primary races boil down to two very basic survival needs: money and endorsements.

In truth, they’re about as closely related as identical twins. A candidate strong in both shows viability. They have something important to tell voters (“I’m supported by people whose opinion you value”) and the means in which to communicate their message with good consultants and volunteers through campaign mailers, advertising, websites, social media and campaign signs.

Getting money from donors requires candidates to get out there and build momentum. But what happens when your field is packed with other equally viable candidates? High-level endorsements get tougher to secure in primaries and the local donor dollar well gets dangerously low pretty quick, especially when you’re capped at a teeny $500 per person.

San Diego County Republican Party Chairman Tony Krvaric already announced at the recent Lincoln-Reagan Dinner that the party will not be endorsing in the primary (good news for those of us who recall the Steve Francis endorsement debacle). But without that sort of automatic support, these Republican titans will vie for the same donors and endorsements. Expect to see some real grassroots and grasstops footwork in the hopes of overcoming these obstacles.

The one who likely won’t face as much of a fundraising strain: Councilman Carl DeMaio. In 2008, he reported lending $94,000 and giving more than $200,000 to his race. But DeMaio’s not a total self-funder, a fact which he’ll have to remind folks who shy away from such candidates. Yet, I don’t expect it to be a cakewalk for him anymore than it will be for Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, or District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. Though, neither are small time by any stretch. Dumanis acquired some strong high-level contacts during her tenure on various boards and commissions and Fletcher, along with his wife, Mindy, both brought the national GOP guns to his Assembly races. Both opponents could easily give DeMaio some heartburn.

They’ll have to look for deep, fresh pockets outside the local arena that will boldly toss money and support to bolster their candidacies. Unearthing significant, vital support in the next year will help convince folks they can leap the 2012 June primary hurdle and then, win the big enchilada in November presumably against a Democrat. No doubt all three already have a healthy dial-for-dollars list ready to target friends in high places.

Since December, I’ve heard from community leaders and activists throughout the city who tell me they’ve been approached by at least two of the candidates asking for support. Those are the sort of folks who could be the tipping factor – true believers mean dedicated precinct walkers, phone bankers and envelope stuffers. In other words: volunteers to stretch those budgets. They’re also the type of word-of-mouth advocates you can never under estimate in dollar value to a race. Plus, with Fletcher and DeMaio – they’re precint-walking demons who enjoy the priceless one-on-one front door chats with voters.

Another necessary arena to stretch the campaign dollars in voter outreach: earned media. A study a few years ago showed the average American receives more than 4,000 messages a day (email, phone calls, text messages, various traditional media and non-traditional social media streams, and in-person conversations) – it’s a huge battle just to cut through the clutter. More than ever, candidates must keep their messages sharp, clear and in sweet bite-sized take aways that can easily be understood and repeated.

Between the three, Fletcher’s gotta beef up his local media presence more, sharpen his message on what he offers as a state Assemblyman turned mayor and take advantage of an open dialogue with voters’ eyes and ears. Both Dumanis and DeMaio flex their media savvy regularly on radio and TV shows; we know who they are and what they stand for. Though, Dumanis must translate for voters her “tough on crime” image to who she’ll be as their mayor – the same hurdle current Mayor Jerry Sanders tackled, and tackled well. DeMaio’s framed his public image as the “reformer” – a message he’ll hammer home through his ties to the pension reform measure set for the mayoral primary hoping to either help shake off or use against the Labor attacks.

In times of thin media coverage, candidates now have social media to fill in some informational gaps. In 2008, President Barack Obama showed us the value of social media both in voter outreach and fundraising, something these three already picked up on. But user beware: it’s also rife with cautionary case studies where one flippant remark (or photo) could irreparably stain your career. It’s a good tool, when used responsibly.

Combined Facebook and Twitter Klout scores ranks DeMaio at 49 out of 100 and Fletcher at 46, meaning they have a fairly engaged and influential listening base. As a reference marker, the Conan O’Brien handle @TeamCoco (200,000-plus followers) has a Klout score of 74. Dumanis, at 33, needs to work on interaction a bit more and bump up her friends and following.

In total, DeMaio reaches more than 10,000 Twitter friends and Facebook followers, Fletcher reaches about 8,000 folks through social media and Dumanis reaches nearly 1,700. Clearly, there will be the same folks in both information streams, but you can never discard a captive audience. These folks want the information because they chose to follow or friend them, meaning they’ll be easier to coax onto to the website donation page. That makes a huge difference in response to say a blast fundraising email.

The mayor’s race will be monstrously expensive for all the candidates. All three candidates lined up well-respected general consultants who no doubt understand the high stakes game they’re in.

With all this talk about money, let us not forget the costly Francis lesson: spending more than $1 million and churning out endless TV commercials doesn’t mean you’ll win. As one of our regular Rostra readers, Erik, noted recently: Perhaps it’s the so-called safe, boring candidates that best win over San Diego voters for mayor.

It’s a handsome field invigorated with high-quality, well-matched candidates running for an important office; best I’ve seen since I moved here 11 years ago. I wish them all the very best of luck.

Let the games begin!

– Follow me @erica_holloway.


Comments 22

  1. As Rand would say, you “Check your premises”. Nobody ever won a race on endorsements. A successful campaign is money, message, and organization. Endorsements are a very small component of the latter.

  2. And more specifically: money, message, and organization lead to all the good endorsements.

  3. Good analysis, Erica. I do agree with Insider. Endorsements serve well to build early momentum and good endorsements are part of the basic organization, with late endorsements often following the anticipated winner with the great campaign. Yet, endorsements mean nothing without enough resources, especially in the stretch, and significant financial resources and a good ground game will knock the smack out of endorsements any time, any place.

  4. Post
  5. Post

    Insider and Barry:

    Did I say endorsements (or even money) alone mean you win? Don’t see that anywhere here. If that were so, Francis would be the incumbent.

    I’m not talking about winning the whole deal, I’m talking about the money race in the primary.

    Endorsements lead to more money; they’re tied to one another. As in, I endorse you – now here’s a fat check or my positive, highly-recognizable name to help get you fat checks or both.

    In the “final stretch” everyone, like the party, will easily give support because the field is cleared. Those are no-brainer gets. But securing solid support in a crowded primary comes down to skillful campaigning, which brings those other components into play.

    It’s a test of these folks’ ability to be resourceful and work their base.



  6. All this talk of endorsements, money, ground game, organization, etc. reminds me of the Roberts / Murphy race.

  7. I wasn’t disagreeing with you, just adding my perspective on the overall strength of endorsements.

  8. Post

    Dear D7 Voter:

    True. Yet this race gives off a more polished, younger and energized feeling or texture because this isn’t a second (or third) go-around for any of the candidates.



  9. Don’t get me wrong Erica, it was a good article. I guess you are equating endorsements with what I would lump into “organization”. That being said, the very important third tier of the triangle is Message and that was missing.

    The three Republican’s in this mayor’s race are likely to all have solid organizations and should be able to all at least raise decent money. But, they are likely to all have very different messages.

    Their support among donors, insiders and the general public will be heavily impacted by this message and they aren’t going to be able to play sides — something easy to do in lower level non-partisan and legislative races. Example: It won’t be possible to have a message that earns you the endorsement of both police/fire and sdgop/lincoln club. I think we can all agree those are the 4 best endorsements for any center/center-right/right candidate in this race. All individual endorsements other than maybe Jerry Sanders’ mean very little.

    In a high profile race like this, the message is very important.

  10. Erica, I agree. And with several fresher faces all in their first mayoral run, many of whom seem qualifed, it could be a tough call for the various endorsers and donors trying to gauge which, if any, of the candidates are capable of handling the executive branch.

    Will they’ just sit out the primary or hold off and see how things play out? Will they evenly divide between their preferred candidates? Or will there be some insider maneuvering to rally around one candidate, and possibly try get other candidates to bow out early? My sense is this primary will get ugly and many of the big endorsements / money will either sit it out or give money to more than one of the front runners to hedge their bets.

  11. Post

    Dear Insider:

    Agreed, but message to whom? Organizations hear different messages than do general voters and when I discuss capitalizing on earned/ social media – that’s voter outreach via messaging.

    Organization can mobilize support, but you still need a message that resonates with the public. As a member of the public, who endorses a candidate may mean very little to you depending on your party and to what various guides you give credence.

    If your voter guide or mail comes with support from folks who matter to you, as in where I wrote these people share your values, then you may vote based on those opinions.

    Otherwise, its the message you receive from candidates in mail, the media and at the door. That’s where money comes in – you need cash to reach your audience.

    Plus, polling plays greatly into messaging and at some point, they’ll all hit similar notes based on what resonates with high-propensity voters. But in general, yes – as I said, message needs to be sharp and easily identified with the candidate. How these candidates distinguish themselves from one another will be key.

    I see only Dumanis going after labor support and with Dems in the race, that doesn’t seem a likely get. GOP and Lincoln Club may well sit out the primary. But mark my words, however the primary winner shakes out and no matter how they tried to butter up labor – a Republican will get Republican endorsements (see Schwarzenegger).



  12. Post

    D7 Voter:

    You’re right on as far as sitting it out or spreading the wealth. It’s a classic damned if you do or don’t situation.

    As far as talking someone out: doubtful. They’ve all weighed the risk in the last few months and if there were any attempts to talk opponents out, they’ve likely happened and failed.

    But it’s certainly bound to be a fun show.



  13. One thing that folks who are a bit more dispassionate about this stuff should watch is whether GEOGRAPHY still maters as much as it has in the past. For those a bit longer in tooth, they will remember that one of the dynamics in 1996 was that the crowded field essentially broke down almost exclusively by area – with candidates garnering support from their geographic base.

    What was critical in that race was doing well in the “vacuums” – – for example Murphy going “left” on environmental stuff (anyone else remember Sorrento Valley Road”) to try to garner a few left leaning votes from coastal environmentalists.


    I find it “very interesting” (in my best Borris Borisnoff accent) that Claremont is not yet spoken for. My guess is that Lori Z (and John Hoy) are going to be very popular in the coming weeks.

    Plus riddle me this Rostarians – where is Bonnie D’s geographic base? And Bob F. is going to have a pain of a time since the people in the City in his district DONT VOTE. Kehoe, on the other hand, has pretty deep roots into the environmentalists. Which leads me to the other prediction – that the league of conservation voters and the Sierra Club are going to be where a TON of the action is on the left.

  14. Environmentalists? So which candidate will come out opposed to fireworks? Or is it firecrackers? 🙂

  15. Post

    Dear Erik:

    Excellent points all around.

    You bring up the one conundrum that DeMaio likely foresaw and tried to avoid by reaching into other district areas almost as soon as elected to city council. But he and Fletcher virtually dip from the same pool of community supporters; it’ll be a Civil War round them parts. Zapf’s going to be the hottest date in town.

    Dumanis and Filner have the opposite issue: who are their grassroots people? Name ID counts for a great deal with these two, but so does years of uneven public perception (ahem, baggage claim). I agree; Kehoe likely picks up that key enviro support, but not without a fight.



  16. Post

    Dear D7 Voter:

    I thought you were working the Marco race? Deliver!



  17. Rumors are circulating that San Diego political operative Tom Mitchell will be Dumanis’ Campaign Manager. Mitchell was the SD county Victory Director in ’10. He also managed Mike Morrell’s primary win for Assembly. He also worked on April Boling’s city council run in ’08, and Shirley Horton’s ’06 reelection.

  18. Marco is out.

    He was concerned that even though he is domiciled and registered to vote at some friend’s house in San Diego, he really lives in Encinitas, and voters could hold that against him.

    Besides, his sister wants to use her funds and volunteers for Kehoe.

  19. Post

    Dear Dumanis Manager:

    Wow. Did you commit Mr. Mitchell’s resume to memory?



  20. But an effective campaign still needs a good ground game.

    “Everyone supported Ron Roberts-except the voters.” – Scott Barnett in San Diego CityBeat

  21. Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.