June 1 2016 01:00 PM

Winning the primary with less than 50% of the vote doesn't necessarily prove victory in November

Ed Harris
Photo from Wiki Commons

The San Diego Democratic Party has got to be—and should be—kicking itself in the ass for not getting off said duff earlier to mount a strong mayoral campaign against incumbent Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

Late last year it looked like Faulconer was a shoo-in for re-election. No major Dem would step forward to be a challenger. Independent Lori Saldaña finally threw her hat into the ring in January and Democrat Ed Harris just entered the race in March.

“Starting about six months ago, Democrats should have amassed a big war chest from all the progressives and Democrats sitting on their checkbooks and been running constant ads attacking Faulconer,” said San Diego Mesa College professor and political pundit Carl Luna.

He said Democrats could have targeted Faulconer for: “Being a waffler (Chargers); being ineffective— Pothole Faulconer, Unanswered 9-1-1 Call Kevin; and being a Republican like Trump.”

Faulconer is definitely going to get the most votes in the June 7 primary election. But it’s no longer a foregone conclusion that he’ll garner more than 50 percent of the vote, which would win him the race outright and make the November general election a moot point.

That’s big—because recent history has shown that being the first-place finisher in the San Diego mayoral primary with less than 50 percent does not assure victory in the runoff. In fact, winning the primary with less than 50 percent has practically been a harbinger of losing the general election:

• In 2012, Bob Filner came in second in the primary to Carl DeMaio (31 percent to 30 percent), but Filner prevailed in the general election (51.5 to 48.5).

• In a 2005 special election, Jerry Sanders lost the primary to Donna Frye (43 to 27) but Sanders captured the runoff win (53 to 46).

• In a crowded field in 2000, Dick Murphy finished second in the primary to Ron Roberts (25-15), but Murphy eked out a close win in the general election 51 to 48).

• And back in 1992, Susan Golding took second in the June primary behind Peter Navarro (38 to 31) but she bested Navarro in November (52 to 48).

Lori Saldaña
Photo courtesy of Lori Saldaña for Mayor

Partisanship plays a big factor. A party with multiple candidates will see a split in the primary and then the party coalesces for the general.

Note: Over the last two decades two incumbent mayors won their primaries with more than 50 percent (Golding in 1996 and Sanders in 2008). An incumbent Murphy won the 2004 primary with less than 50 percent and then won a razor-thin, controversial general election over write-in candidate Frye.

Not that polling has been reliable this election cycle, but there’s been a surprising dearth of it for the mayor’s race. Only one, an out-of-the-box, Facebook-based poll conducted by Independent Voter’s Network San Diego, has tackled the race.

The IVN poll put Faulconer at 48 percent, Saldaña at 26 percent and Harris at 20 percent—indicating that Faulconer is very much on the fence.

Harris and Saldaña said they didn’t have funding to do polls.

“We did not spend money on polls but Faulconer has spent many thousands on focus groups and several polls, none of which have been released to counter the current data which shows that most San Diego voters want someone else to be their mayor,” Saldaña said.

Faulconer has a comparatively huge war chest, and popular opinion says he did unreleased polling that wasn’t as favorable as hoped. The mayor’s campaign team did not respond to questions about polls.

No polls were releases after a May 24 mayoral debate aired on KUSI-TV, and none are expected before the final televised debate of the race is broadcast on June 3 on NBC.

Neither Saldaña nor Harris landed a heavy blow during the KUSI debate, and Faulconer played it safe. The challengers are hoping to generate some kind of debate buzz in their last chance before the primary. Together, if they can keep Faulconer under 50 percent in the primary—for a variety of reasons relating to local and national issues—one of them will be a real contender come November.


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