Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in eight of the nine City Council districts in San Diego. Yet, Republican Kevin Faulconer defeated Democrat David Alvarez in last weeks mayoral election by more than nine percentage points and more than 22,000 votes (update: post-Election Day vote counting has closed the gap to 6.4 percent, or 18,384 votes). In the wake of the election, some Republican political operatives said the result indicates a rejuvenated GOP in San Diego. Obviously, they said, Faulconer appealed to many Democrats and independents (one-third of voters citywide identify as neither Republican nor Democrat).
Maybe. But there are four City Council districts where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 30 percent (Districts 3, 4, 8 and 9, all south of Interstate 8), and those are the four districts that saw the lowest voter turnout. In contrast, the district with the highest turnout was District 5, the only district that has more Republicans than Democrats.
So, we dont think were going way out on a limb in saying that, for whatever reason, Republicans were more energized in this special election than were the Democrats; Alvarez didnt exactly capture the electorates imagination.
A story in U-T San Diegos Sunday paper by Craig Gustafson gushed over Faulconers nice-guy appeal and knack for reaching across the political aisle to solve problems. The stylistic differences between him and former mayor Bob Filner may very well be a major reason why city voters chose Faulconer to replace Filner as San Diegos 36th mayor, Gustafson posited.
But Faulconers campaign positioned him as a maverick independent and a political moderate, and it went out of its way to avoid the Republican descriptor, even though, as Gustafson noted, Faulconer holds political views nearly identical to unabashed Republican Carl DeMaio. Alvarez, on the other hand, campaigned authentically as a progressive.
Faulconer also benefited from brutal, deceptive attacks on Alvarez by the Lincoln Club, an archconservative political-action committee, but he was able to appear above the fray because PACs, by law, act independently of the campaigns. The fact that Faulconer hammered Alvarez on his union backing would suggest that such an attack polled well with likely voters, and Alvarez didnt have an adequate response. Democrats will need to explain why union support isnt a terrible thing, or therell be trouble ahead.
At any rate, come the first week in March, Faulconer will be the mayor, and time will tell whether his policy agenda matches his populist campaign. Because hes finishing Filners term, Faulconer is less than two years away from having to officially begin his campaign for reelection, and make no mistake: The 2016 race has unofficially begun. To maintain his newfound centrist appeal, Faulconer must change his stripes to some degree.
Faulconers most likely challenger is Democrat Todd Gloria, whos riding a huge wave of popularity after stabilizing city government as interim mayor in the wake of Filners tumultuous downfall. The charismatic Gloria will return to the 10th floor of City Hall a much brighter star as he resumes his role as president of a City Council thats expected to have a 6-3 Democratic super-majority once a Democrat is appointed to sit in Faulconers old District 2 seat until December (six votes can override a mayors veto).
Gloria is saying all the polite things about cooperating with Faulconer to tackle problems, but hes also vowing to pursue an ambitious progressive agenda, highlighted by spending homelessness dollars more effectively, implementing a Climate Action Plan and raising the local minimum wage. Faulconer no doubt will oppose the wage hike, but hell have to agree on homelessness funding in order to be consistent with his campaign. The climate plan will be a real pivot point: Does he side with Gloria on whats likely a popular policy among San Diegos independents? Or does he fall back into the warm embrace of local business elites, wholl probably try to de-fang the climate plan?
Look for Faulconer to do whatever he can to help District 6 Councilmember Lorie Zapf, a Republican whos being forced by recent redistricting to run this year in District 2, as well as Chris Cate, the Republican Partys choice to fill the open District 6 seat. Districts 2 and 6 are swing seats heavy with independent voters. Zapf and Cate, like Faulconer, will have to tack to the center to win.
This is going to be a very interesting year.