"She can't win" sniffed political consultant Tom Shepard to the Union-Tribune's Phil LaVelle.
After all, Tom should know. He choreographed the winning political campaigns of Mayor Ron Roberts in 2000, and of Councilmembers Steve Danon and Kevin Faulconer.
Oh, wait a minute. They all lost.
"She can't win."
We're hearing a lot of this, but with a fearful edge to it, like whistling in a political graveyard.
More like, "Oh, God, please-Donna Frye can't win!"
"She can't win," is the rallying cry of the political echo chamber-the downtown establishment of lobbyists, developers, people who do business with the city and the various groups and organizations that feed at the public trough.
Until Frye's entry, the mayor's race was like a choice between oatmeal and Cream of Wheat. No matter how you dish it up, it's mush.
Frye is like a bowl of granola with fruit, fresh-squeezed OJ and roasted coffee. (Not Starbucks, of course, but Pannikin.) Instead of red power ties, we now have tie-dye.
But Shepard is not alone. The conventional wisdom is "she can't win."
The last write-in candidate to win in San Diego County was in 1982, and that campaign was a beaut. Carlsbad Mayor Ron Packard won a write-in over Democratic white supremacist Tom Metzger and Orange County GOP businessman Johnny Crean. Crean's sleazy primary win over the soft-spoken Packard, a Mormon dentist, angered North County San Diegans who did not want to be represented by Orange County.
So Packard mobilized the largest army of Mormon volunteers since the Mexican-American war, when the "Mormon Battalion" marched from the Midwest, arriving in Old Town and building the fort at Presido Hill. Packard's army organized to tell voters how to write him in, and he became the first write-in candidate to win a congressional seat since Reconstruction.
"She can't win." "She has no money." "She has no organization." "She won't be able to buy TV." Blah, blah.
So, how does San Diego's sassy surfer chick best Murphy and Roberts?
Political maxim: don't underestimate your opponents.
In just a few days Frye's volunteers were able to collect 4,000 signatures to qualify as a write-in. She has zealous supporters willing to work their guts out for her. Also, Frye's "I say what I mean and mean what I say" style appeals to a cross-section of voters, especially in this season of City Hall fumbling and secret meetings.
An ultraconservative Republican said about Frye the other day: "I am voting for Donna. She is the only candidate in the race with any balls!"
Gender jokes aside, he added, "She was the only one to vote against the pension under-funding, she voted against subsidizing the Padres, and the recent Chargers giveaway. She is the only member of the City Council who has any business experience," he said, referring to the fact that Frye handled the sales and bookkeeping of hubby Skip's surfboard biz.
"She is the only one who asks any damn intelligent questions about the budget," he said. And this guy is a red-meat-eating right-winger.
So, can she win? It would be a political miracle. When this article is published, some 25,000 to 30,000 absentee ballots (out of an estimated 80,000 to 100,000) will already be in San Diego voters' hands. Voters have to find the mayoral portion of the ballot, color in an oval next to a blank line and write something resembling "Donna Frye."
The plus for Frye is that in this election, every voter actually has to "color" their vote in for their candidate by filling the oval next to their choice's name. So every voter will already have a pen in hand. The county registrar of voters decided to go with this "SAT test" voting system after the March electronic-voting debacle.
There are several factors critical to a Frye victory:
Labor. The true keys to the kingdom are likely in the hands of a former mailman, hardballing labor leader Jerry Butkiewicz. If labor decides to dump Murphy, who has opposed every single one of labor's issues (prevailing wage, living wage, project labor agreements), and go with Frye, Butkiewicz can scrounge up a couple million dollars to put behind Frye in a New York minute. In fact, most of the money would likely come from New York, Washington D.C. and other eastern climes. Butkiewicz was able to generate hundreds of thousand of eastern labor dollars to put behind Mike Zucchet, and he buried voters in piles of direct mail in 2002.
The funds would have to be an "independent expenditure," meaning they could not "coordinate" with Frye's campaign. But labor could field an army of pencil wielding precinct workers, who-standing the requisite 100 feet from the polling place-could help explain to hapless voters that they would have to write Frye in. They could spend millions on TV, direct mail and radio.
Word is that Butkiewicz was strongly pushing Frye to get in the race. Would he lead her to the political altar and leave her hanging? We'll soon find out.
Environmentalists. The Sierra Club, which endorsed Murphy in 2000 and again for his reelection, is going to consider whether to dump Murphy this week and support Frye. Murphy's continued environmental support has been somewhat ironic since his "accomplishments" have been limited mostly to appointing the Sierra Club's Carolyn Chase to the Planning Commission, and creating an "environmental task force" (also chaired by Chase) and a tree committee. Will Chase and the Sierra Club bolt and take the risk of Murphy winning anyway and then receiving the Wrath of Kern (Murphy's chief of staff)?
The gay community has inexplicably rallied mostly around Murphy, despite his support of gay-unfriendly Prop. 22 in 2000, and his opposition to the city's needle-exchange program. His vote to subsidize the Boy Scouts also angered many gays. But he seems to have placated many in the community by forming yet another committee, the city's first-ever GLBT advisory committee (which he ignores.)
Ron Roberts has been better on some GLBT issues, and has ridden in the Pride Parade for years, but does not engender any excitement among the community.
Democrats. When Bill Clinton won among San Diego voters (twice), he was the first Democrat to do so since LBJ. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in San Diego by a count of 39 percent to 35 percent. Democrat Frye is running against two Republicans-and it may be the key to her success. If the Democratic Party gets a boatload of money (from labor), it can communicate directly with every Democrat and legally coordinate its activities with Frye.
Fiscally conscious voters. While Murphy and Roberts have been playing the "yours is bigger than mine" game (pension shortfalls, that is), Frye can crow that she is the only candidate in the race who did not vote to under-fund a pension system.
Discontented electorate. Voters are upset with out-of-control growth, worsening traffic and daily stories detailing the incompetence and ethical lapses of elected officials. This could be the year for a political upset.
There are those who say that Donna will simply be a "spoiler," taking enough anti-Murphy votes away from Roberts to re-elect the mayor, or undercutting Murphy's labor and environmental support to elect Roberts.Can she win, or will she be a spoiler? How does one spoil oatmeal?