When Councilman Carl DeMaio and Rep. Bob Filner meet in a November runoff to be San Diego’s next mayor, they’ll do so facing a fundamentally different electorate than the one they progressed through earlier this week.
For one, voter turnout won’t be 24 percent come fall.
With the small turnout, DeMaio won the race with 32 percent over Filner, who took 30 percent. Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis were eliminated from the race with 23 percent and 13 percent, respectively.
The new dynamics will come from more than just greater turnout. For instance, there will be two fewer mayoral candidates, Proposition B -- the DeMaio-backed pension reform initiative -- won’t be on the ballot, and fundraising opportunities for both candidates will change nationally and locally.
Altogether, Carl Luna, political science professor at San Diego Mesa College, said the November electoral climate helps Filner more than DeMaio. The larger voting base in the general election tends to be more Democratic than a primary.
It’s a sentiment shared by many political observers, including the U-T San Diego editorial board. In a meeting following Fletcher’s decision to leave the Republican Party, the board told him it was concerned that Filner could emerge from the broader electoral environment.
“It’s a broadening of base of voters, but it’s also a broadening of pools of money,” Luna said. “With a clear view of candidates, people are more willing to open their checkbooks.”
But it’s also possible that the traditional right-versus-left matchup in one of the nation’s largest cities, with public pensions as a primary issue, will attract money from out of state.
“Both DeMaio and Filner have D.C. pockets,” Luna said. “There’s the potential for this to become a Koch Brothers and other national interest issue. I don’t know if people have the time to worry about San Diego, but it doesn’t take that many checks from deep pockets to make it interesting and nasty.”
Filner was outraised by each of his opponents in the primary. He has said he underestimated how hard it would be to fundraise for the race, but has also been criticized for a lackadaisical approach because he was the only Democrat. Luna said the lack of effort could even give Filner more potential donors in the fall.
“It helps. He hasn’t fired a lot of ammunition,” he said. “The question is, if he didn’t have (donors) in primaries why he’ll have more in the general.”
On the morning after the election, speculation quickly turned to how the two general candidates would appeal to the 37 percent of voters who supported Fletcher and Dumanis.
Both Filner and DeMaio supporters have reason to believe they’ll collect their defeated opponents’ base of support.
Prior to Fletcher’s decision to run as an independent, both he and Dumanis were loyal Republicans. Like DeMaio, they both support propositions A and B, outsourcing city services, Mayor Jerry Sanders’ legally tenuous Convention Center expansion and Irwin Jacobs’ plan to renovate Balboa Park. On most of the race’s biggest issues, Fletcher and Dumanis are closer to DeMaio than they are to Filner.
But Luna said DeMaio will have a hard time attracting many Fletcher and Dumanis supporters.
“Fletcher picked up between 10 and 12 points of undecided voters when he went independent, and I don’t think those undecideds will go to DeMaio,” he said. “And I don’t see Bonnie’s support in the gay and lesbian community going to DeMaio.”
Filner has already made an overture to Fletcher for support. After repeatedly joking during the campaign that he’d offer Fletcher a job in his administration, he said on election night that he’d call Fletcher in the morning to discuss the future. The next day, he told KPBS that he was meeting with Fletcher to discuss forming a partnership.
The question there is, what’s in it for Fletcher?
“I just don’t know what kind of street life that gives him as an elected official,” Luna said.
DeMaio campaigned alongside Prop. B and celebrated his and the initiative’s victory as a signal that voters were ready to reform City Hall.
While he won’t have the luxury of appearing next to an initiative associated with his candidacy that won with 66 percent support, that doesn’t mean the reform measure will be going away.
There’s already a legal case against Prop. B working its way through the state Public Employee Relations Board, or PERB. Opponents have promised additional legal challenges as well.
Filner has a pension reform plan of his own, one of the selling points of which is his ability to implement it immediately upon taking office while Prop. B is costing the city money in legal fees.
On election night, Filner tried on what is likely to be an oft-repeated case between now and November, saying the passage of Prop. B wouldn’t change anything for his campaign.
“It’s off the ballot, and whoever is mayor is going to have to implement it, although I think there’s going to be years of legal challenges,” he said. “I can implement my plan while we’re litigating Prop. B.”
Facing two other candidates who also opposed Prop. B, DeMaio in the primary made the case that he was the bill’s main backer, and so would be the best candidate to implement it. Now facing the only candidate that opposes the initiative, he’ll stick to that argument and keep the issue relevant.
“It’ll still be a hot issue, so DeMaio will go to voters and say, ‘Look, you need me to close the deal,’” Luna said.
A little more than a week before the primary, DeMaio gave a clue to his general election strategy when he held a press conference announcing he would introduce his road repair initiative to City Council for consideration for the November ballot.
If the council approves his plan, it would allow DeMaio to once again run alongside his own ballot initiative.
“This is the exact same approach I took to give San Diegans the opportunity to get pension reform done,” DeMaio said when announcing his plan, “Repave and Eliminate Potholes through Accountability for Infrastructure Repairs,” or REPAIR.