The Oracle Speaks

Tony Manolatos Tony Manolatos 26 Comments

[captionpix imgsrc=”” captiontext=”John Nienstedt, President of Competitive Edge, and T.J. Zane, President & CEO of The Lincoln Club of San Diego County, at the Lincoln Club’s Election Night Reception. Photo by: Melissa Jacobs”]

Politics & Media Mashup

I worked on a campaign with local pollster John Nienstedt a couple years ago and after he explained in a group email – a few days before the election – that we were going to win someone sent a reply all message that said: “The Oracle has spoken.”

I thought of that Friday at a luncheon as I listened to Nienstedt break down Tuesday’s election.

The owner of Competitive Edge Research & Commuication, Nienstedt worked for Proposition A, Proposition B, Carl DeMaio, Scott Sherman, Ray Ellis and others this cycle. His polling included a 30-day nightly tracking analysis leading up to Election Day, a level of sophistication rarely seen in local races. He knew just about everything before everyone else.

Rostra is asking John to share his analysis and thoughts and hopes he accepts the offer. Until then, here are a few of the highlights I took away from listening to him Friday:

  • Proposition A, the fair and open competition initiative, never trailed but it was tighter at times than the final margin (58 percent of the vote).
  • Proposition B, the pension reform measure, always polled well with most voters, including independents.
  • DeMaio had a big block of voters – conservatives – behind him. Bob Filner, who finished second to DeMaio in the primary, had a big block of voters – liberals – behind him. Nathan Fletcher, who finished third, was well liked but never developed a base and instead drew votes from across the spectrum. You can win that way, but you need to be very popular.
  • Fletcher actually polled better in the weeks leading up to the election than he did toward the end of the race. In the final days, the independents Fletcher needed to win broke for DeMaio.
  • DeMaio repeatedly attacked Fletcher for the Assemblyman’s missed votes in Sacramento because polling showed that message played well with voters.
  • Bonnie Dumanis, who finished fourth in the mayor’s race, didn’t sink Fletcher. If she had pulled out of the race her voters would have been pretty evenly divided among DeMaio, Filner and Fletcher.
  • Ray Ellis started his campaign against City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner with no name ID and ended up with more votes than she did on Tuesday.
  • Nienstedt expects a close and competitive race between DeMaio and Filner in November, but he thinks DeMaio will prevail. It’s not just his gut telling him that. Polling shows San Diegans lean more toward DeMaio and his positions than to Filner and his positions.

For me, most of the election results came in the way I thought they would. Scott Sherman beating Mat Kostrinsky with a majority of the vote (assuming that holds after all the votes are counted) to avoid a November election was the biggest surprise. I had heard the polls showed Sherman with 51 percent. But I saw Kostrinsky, labor’s choice, hustling. He walked neighborhoods and had mail in my mailbox just about every day for weeks.

Lightner’s husband thinks labor, which has never seemed to be on good terms with the Democratic incumbent, sunk its own ship.

“Attacking Sherri with FOUR negative mailers was STUPID! <250 votes needed to stop Scott Sherman. You doomed Mat K in D7. Sad!” Bruce Lightner tweeted Thursday to labor’s Evan McLaughlin.

A couple final thoughts on the mayor’s race…Los Angeles may have the Fashion Police but San Diego has the Pension & Pothole Police.

At its core, DeMaio’s message is that simple. Filner’s is just as simple. He fashions himself as an advocate for workers. Fletcher never crafted a message beyond his distaste for party politics and gridlock and his willingness to work with everyone, which appears to have been too general in scope.

DeMaio has been out front on pensions and potholes for a while. He sees issues that will play well with taxpayers long before his opponents do, and he understands how to cut through the clutter and connect with busy and uninterested voters.

This will be my last Mashup for a while. I’m taking a post-election break.

Before I sign off, I need to give a shout out to one of my best clients – The Lincoln Club of San Diego County.

The Club was one of Tuesday’s biggest winners. It led the Prop. B campaign and campaigned for Prop. A, Sherman, Ellis and numerous other winners across San Diego County.

The Club started this election cycle as hosts of the first mayoral debate and ended it as hosts of San Diego’s best election night party. If you weren’t at the Palm Court at the US Grant for the Club’s election night reception you missed out. We sort of hijacked election night from Golden Hall.

We set up a live feed for the web and several news stations went live from the party. There were major press announcements from numerous winning campaigns and the room was packed with politicians, consultants, board members from local organizations, business professionals and journalists.

Check out the Club’s Facebook page to see photos from the reception as well as victory speeches from Sherman, Ellis, Mark Kersey, DeMaio and Prop. A & B supporters.

Nienstedt was at the Club’s party. He seemed relaxed. Now I know why.


Be sure to follow San Diego Rostra on Twitter and like Rostra on Facebook.

Tony Manolatos is a communications strategist. You can follow him on Twitter or LinkedInYou can hear Tony talk politics and media with KOGO’s LaDona Harvey every Monday at 2:35 p.m. on AM 600 and FM 95.7.

Comments 26

  1. First and foremost, let’s give credit where credit is due…John is clearly very good at what he does. Just ask him. Seriously. I recently saw a presentation he made where he asked the audience not to hate him because he is “always right.” I chose to leave the presentation before he was done, but nevertheless, batting a thousand is batting a thousand.

    Just after the elections I e-mailed T.J. Zane to let him know how much I truly respect his (and the Lincoln Club’s) execution, discipline and success throughout this campaign season–even if I part ways with him a bit on some of the outcomes. I am certain that much of this success can be attributed to John’s work. But to be quite honest, I can’t help but think that all that he is being praised for here in Tony M’s article embodies what I grew to dislike about this year’s primary season and much of what disturbs me about politics today.

    Politics, I was once taught, is the art of the possible. But quite often today, we are recognizing and rewarding the art of the message crafter and the information gatherer (who in this case is one and the same)–Those who aggressively poll to determine what messages can hurt or help a candidate and those who exploit such messages for political gain and advancement. This makes today’s politics less the art of the possible and more the art of what messaging can get you into office and keep you there. We see this on both the Left and the Right, and as I am often reminded, this too is politics. But it doesn’t mean I have to like it or believe in it.

    On election night I passed a good friend and colleague down at Golden Hall who was much happier with the Mayoral election results than I was at that point in the evening. When I explained to her how I was feeling, she cut me off and said, “I don’t know why you don’t just listen to the people who do the polling for us…they could have told you that all of this was going to happen exactly as it did.” I then cut her off to explain that the day I make my political decisions and alliances based on what people are telling me “the polls say” is the day I feel I will become part of the problem in today’s political landscape.

    But as we head into November and beyond, I look forward to the day when the voters turn out in mass in this state, this region and this city to show that polling and the subsequent messages and mailers from either side don’t speak for them and don’t predetermine their opinions and policies. Granted, I might be waiting a very long time for this day to come, but I’m a patient guy and regardless of the response I am sure to get from the Rostra faithful…I am still undeterred. (So fire away boys).

    Tony, well-written and provocative as always. I hate to see you take a break (but you deserve it). T.J. and company, congratulations again and much respect. And John, the only thing I can tell you about always being right, is that one day…you’re not. Until then, congratulations on your successes.

  2. Post

    Brad: Thank you!

    Mark: Thank you! You raise some excellent points.

    I too want our leaders to dream big and deliver. I also expect they will base some of their decisions, including messaging, on self-preservation.

    Some of their decisions will put us first, some will put them first and some will benefit all of us. Certainly not a perfect system, but it is one with checks and balances. If the politician who manipulated the system is not an effective leader he/she won’t be around forever.

  3. Mark – You backed the wrong pony. Given your EDC position, you were already out on a limb in shilling for Fletcher as much as you did during the primary.

    To your point, I supported DeMaio – and I believe he has a much bigger vision than Fletcher, Dumanis and Filner combined. The others offer rhetoric…and stale politics of the past. Have you bothered to read his Roadmap? A ton of great ideas, and a distinct long term vision.

    So quit crying in your beer, and get on board.

  4. @Get on Board Mark:

    We ask anonymous commenters to select a handle and stick with it, not post using names specific only to their current comment. We’re somehow thinking your name here might not be relevant for all your comments in the future. But, since it appears you haven’t commented in the past, we’re just letting you know, while inviting you to post all you’d like, within the rules…


  5. Get on board…cute. First off my friend, I don’t shill for anyone. Second, I don’t drink, so crying in my beer isn’t really an option for me. Third, I’ve read the Roadmap to Recovery and the Pathway to Prosperity several times and don’t recall saying anything about candidate DeMaio or his vision/plans in this or any other post, and lastly…as far as my post at the EDC goes, I’m pretty sure you know where to find me anytime you want to talk about it.

  6. Mark decries pollsters and consultants advising candidates how to craft their messages to get the most votes — a common lamentation. The unstated assumption is that voters, faced with simple, objective statements of positions, can make an informed choice.

    That information is available, but it takes digging. Seldom is ANY source truly objective. Certainly not the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, or the media.

    Granted, there is a subset of voters for which issues are the driving force. But MOST voters care little about “politics,” rightly deciding that their INDIVIDUAL vote doesn’t much matter — that they can vote their entire lives and be confident that they as an INDIVIDUAL will NEVER decide the outcome of a significant political race.

    Hence they give only superficial attention to candidate races. And it’s a logical decision, as I see it.

    Like it or not, candidates wishing to reach the larger electorate have to keep their positives simple as well — and hammer on opponents’ simple negatives.

    Pundits correctly tell us that the PRIMARY elections bring out people more interested in ISSUES and knowledgeable about candidates’ agendas (though most still have surprisingly low knowledge).

    The November election brings out people who vote for — well, other reasons — sometimes DOUBLING the voter turnout in Presidential election years.

    Political party tribal loyalty is a big factor. The gender, looks, demeanor — and even the height — of the candidates takes on a bigger role. A pet issue can be the deciding factor — abortion, gun rights, women’s rights, gay rights, etc.

    To object to politicians polling to find what messages resonate with voters is to condemn widespread participation in democracy — a position that, if honestly presented, at least should be heard.

    BTW, too often we forget that the Founding Fathers weren’t keen on democracy — that’s why the set up the “checks and balances,” and gave us a REPUBLIC — to blunt the dangers of democracy.

  7. I did enjoy Mark’s assertion that he “look(s) forward to the day when the voters turn out in mass in this state, this region and this city to show that polling and the subsequent messages and mailers from either side don’t speak for them and don’t predetermine their opinions and policies.”

    This is beyond a pipe dream. Such an event would be something found only in some not-so-parallel universe. It calls for a fundamental change in human nature, intelligence and priorities.

    Perhaps “Can’t we all just get along?” is a better idealistic goal. And just maybe more attainable.

  8. I know that no politician will say this, but failed candidate that I am — I publicly encourage people NOT to vote — especially if they don’t know what or who they are voting for.

    And just because one chooses to vote, it doesn’t follow that one has to cast a vote for EVERY issue or candidate on the ballot.

    It’s especially amazing how some people worry about the judges races, asking someone — anyone — to simply tell ’em how to vote. I get queries even on the UNOPPOSED judges races.

    If ya don’t know, nothing wrong with not voting. And I think we’ll all be better off if voters make that “abstain” choice when appropriate.

    Yeah, yeah — I know. Another pipe dream.

  9. Fair enough on all fronts Richard. Like I said, it’s politics…doesn’t mean I have to believe in it or like it–but it is what it is. I’ll keep looking for that fundamental change in human nature, intelligence and priorities and I’ll be sure to let you know when I find it. Until then, just like you, I’ll keep calling ’em like I see ’em. Thanks for the feedback.

  10. 73% of registered voters chose not to vote in this election. On top of this, a large percentage of eligible voters didn’t even choose to register. And now, Richard Rider is encouraging still more not to vote. Does anyone else really believe that it bodes well for our democracy that less than 1 in 5 eligible voters actually vote?

  11. “Does anyone else really believe that it bodes well for our democracy that less than 1 in 5 eligible voters actually vote?”

    We don’t have a democracy because our forebears know that democracies fail. We have a Constitutional Republic. Would that we followed that Constitution we’d be much more peaceful and prosperous.

  12. Mark: I did not say that I’m “always right.” I said my firm Competitive Edge Research has not lost a race in San Diego since 2004. Perhaps I should have then noted that we’re celebrating our 25th anniversary which would make clear that, though it’s been awhile, we have been on the losing side. Then again, our handout clearly stated CERC was founded in 1987.

    Because I knew that few in the audience had supported the candidate I worked for (Carl DeMaio), I asked them not hate me because I was right about the Mayor’s race and my firm is very effective. Evidently that did not come across to you as I intended, which was to show that the postmortem that I was about to do –- and that the meeting’s organizers asked me to do — was purely professional and nothing personal. I’m sorry that I did not communicate that well to you. I think I did a better job along those lines at the Albondigas lunch the following day, which was what Tony wrote about.

    If you’d like, I would be happy to discuss this and the reasons for low voter participation in more detail over a burger and/or a beer.

  13. Brian Brady,

    “We don’t have a democracy because our forebears know that democracies fail. We have a Constitutional Republic. ”

    Do you therefore disagree with the initiative process?

    And where is written in the Constitution (except when voting for President) that we should strive to have less people vote for our elected representatives?

  14. I disagree with the ballot initiative process in principle. In practice, it’s been an effective defense against what would other wise be a looters paradise.

  15. Brian,

    I think you hit on the dilemma many of us face. Although we have our principles, we are willing to ignore them when it suits our purpose.

  16. John,

    Happy to take you up on the lunch anytime. I will be sure to reach out to you through more than just a Rostra post. In fact I probably should have done so in the first place. Look forward to talking more. Thanks for the response and the offer.


  17. California is no longer a Republic. California is a Democracy. The ballot initiative is one reason. The other is the lack of a functional difference between the Assembly and the State Senate. The State Senate began drawing districts according to population after Reynolds vs. Sims in 1968 when the Supreme Court basically ruled that mirroring the U.S. Constitution is unconstitutional.
    Unless the State Senate districts are static (like county lines) then places of high population density like LA and San Francisco will control the state and we will no longer be a true Republic or have a true bicameral system.

    CA is a tyrannical, mob-rules, large-D, Democracy form of government and we are suffering the ill effects.

  18. States get equal representation in the U.S. Senate in recognition of their equal sovereign status as ratifiers of the Constitution. There is no analog on the state level.

    State senate districts did not band together to create California, they have no sovereign status, indeed, they are not even governmental entities at all.

    Giving the districts equal votes when their populations are allowed to be vastly unequal violated the Constitution’s guarantee of a republican form of government. That’s what the 1964 Reynolds vs. Sims decision said.

  19. And it was a bad decision.

    Counties were formed before the state was formed and they did band together to form a state. Counties in California are vastly different and deserve the kind of representation a house NOT based on population size provides.

    Without a second house based on static districts, we are a state run by majority rule. Whatever 50% +1 wants is what the other 49.9% have to live with. And that majority will always be in the two largest cities. If the rural areas cannot get some kind of meaningful representation then we can call our form of government whatever we want, but it will act as a Democracy. And the ballot initiative process makes the problem worse fundamentally, but it has really turned into the only avenue for the underrepresented rural areas of our state.

    This makes it a little clearer (hopefully):

  20. Michael,

    Your complaint is that “we are a state run by majority rule.” That’s a bad thing? Really?

    And by the way, San Diego is the second largest City in the state.

  21. Michael,
    Counties were formed before the state was formed and they did band together to form a state.

    That isn’t what happened. The counties have never had sovereign status, then or now. They are administrative units of the state.

    As a result of the Mexican-American War, California became a territory of the United States. Congress did not give California any government, either territorial or state. In 1849, the military governor, troubled by this lack of government, called for a state convention to draft a constitution.

    The California Constitution was then ratified by a vote of the people. In 1850, Congress admitted California to the Union.

  22. There was a group of people within the borders of San Diego County under a common economy, etc. It’s not like this area was a group of random wanderers that all of a sudden organized the year CA became a state.
    In any case, I’m not saying the procedure the Court described by which states became a union was not accurate or that the Supreme Court was wrong about history. I am saying they came to the wrong conclusion and that California is worse off for it. We don’t have a true bicameral system. We have two “House of Representatives” which really makes us a Democracy form of government. And as a result smaller counties/towns/municipalities get run over by areas of dense population (LA and SF). It doesn’t make any sense to have two houses that are technically the exact same (except there are fewer of them and serve longer terms). It makese more sense to have static districts and ever more sense to have a senator per county so that in the Assembly large population concentrations get representation and the Senate gives low population density areas get representation.
    It seems to work nationally and it certainly works better than hoping the Gov. uses his veto or having to support a ballot measure every time LA and SF want a law that will only advance their views without taking he other 50% of the state into consideration.


    “Looking at the primary from the other side of the aisle… Local conserv blog SDRostra has a couple of post-election articles up that, along with the additional comments posted, should be mandatory reading for San Diego politicos. The Oracle Speaks has local pollster John Nienstedt sharing his observations about local primary contests from a (successful) political consultant’s point of view. And Tweets Don’t Equal Votes takes a look at the social media efforts of the Nathan Fletcher campaign; be sure to read through the comments on this one.”

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