Pity the poor local pol. With no popular incumbent president in 2016, whose coattails do you cling to? And all five White House hopefuls left in the running have some type of baggage or image issue that others running for elected office aren’t anxious to embrace.
So says our unscientific survey. CityBeat reached out to nearly 60 elected San Diego County officials on their presidential picks (including all 18 mayors). Responses came from a total of 20.
Most were like that of San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis: “Thanks for reaching out,” said spokeswoman Tanya Sierra. “Bonnie will take a pass.”
So did county Supervisor Greg Cox (“neither committed nor commenting on the presidential election”) and San Diego Democratic Councilmembers (running for Assembly) Todd Gloria (“no comment on your request”), Myrtle Cole (“unavailable to answer your questions”) and David Alvarez (“no comment at this time”).
Lifeguard union leader Ed Harris, the prime Democratic San Diego mayoral challenger, didn’t respond to a request for comment. But he might be waiting for a cue from Gloria. Last April, two days after Gloria joined the race for the 78th State Assembly District, Harris dropped out of the same race and endorsed his former council colleague.
Casey Tanaka, a Democrat, was elected mayor of Coronado in 2008 and easily won re-election (with 70 percent of the vote) in 2012—despite the Crown City having almost twice as many Republicans as Democrats. But he’s uneasy when asked who he wants for president. “As my office is by law a nonpartisan office, I have no comment on this nationally partisan race,” Tanaka said.
No member of the San Diego Unified School District board answered this seemingly innocuous email request. And an aide in Oceanside said: “Mayor [Jim] Wood is unavailable to participate in this interview.”
Other no-shows: county Supervisors Bill Horn, Dianne Jacob, Dave Roberts and Ron Roberts; Assemblymembers Rocky Chavez (R), Brian Jones (R), Marie Waldron (R) and Shirley Weber (D); state Senators Joel Anderson (R), Marty Block (D) and Ben Hueso (D); and U.S. Representatives Darrell Issa (R) and Juan Vargas (D).
Why all the hesitation?
“You might not want to make a choice now because you risk offending voter blocs later,” said Professor Carl Luna, the veteran politics watcher out of San Diego Mesa College. “Your endorsement doesn’t really gain you much at this point. Once you have a party nominee, you can get behind them and simply look like you’re a good soldier.”
Nonetheless, several female San Diego pols said they are in Hillary Clinton’s corner.
“If elections were coming this week, I would vote for Hillary Clinton,” said Del Mar Mayor Sherryl Parks. “She has run the White House, the State Department, a Senate office, as well as a political life that spans over 35 years of rough media attention. It’s funny. Eight years ago, we wondered if a woman could lead the country. No one now even talks about that issue!”
San Diego City Councilmember Marti Emerald likes Hillary Clinton. Also backing the First Lady Emeritus is Assembly Speaker Emeritus Toni Atkins, who said America “is way overdue for a woman’s perspective in the Oval Office…Public service is about getting things done. That’s what Hillary Clinton’s always been about. She’s an artist of the possible.”
Likewise Chula Vista Mayor Mary Casillas Salas, who said she would vote for Clinton as the first woman president, and Rep. Susan Davis, who endorsed Clinton: “Her work for children and families all her adult life convinces me she is focused on the future.”
Rep. Scott Peters also endorsed Clinton.
Independent San Diego mayoral candidate Lori Saldaña, the former Democratic Assemblymember, hasn’t taken a formal stance, “but I tell people that I like the positions that Bernie Sanders is discussing—forcing Clinton to discuss. Happy that both of them are in the race,” she said. “Definitely leaning toward Bernie Sanders at this point.”
On the GOP side, those willing to name names found it hard to settle on just one.
“I am a staunch Republican conservative who would vote for Ted Cruz if the election was today,” said Santee Mayor Randy Voepel. “Cruz has officeholder experience and is the closest to conservatism. My second choice would be Donald Trump because I’m fed up with Republican presidential choices between Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.”
San Diego City Councilmember Scott Sherman said:
“Not totally excited about anyone in particular at this point,” but GOP colleague Mark Kersey backed Marco Rubio before he dropped out, telling me in February: “I like [Ohio Gov. John] Kasich as well—known him for 15 years. Between those two guys, that’s a pretty attractive ticket, whichever way it goes.”
Assemblymember Brian Maienschein hasn’t officially endorsed anyone, but said before Rubio dropped out: “Gov. Kasich and Sen. Rubio would bring people together, finding common ground, rather than dividing the electorate.”
County assessor/recorder/clerk Ernest Dronenburg Jr., a Rubio backer since last summer, now says: “Kasich is my second choice.” But down the hall, county treasurer-tax collector Dan McAllister, a fellow Republican, said he’s “underwhelmed” by the field and would vote for “none of the above.”
“Right now, I want to make my decision on people I believe in,” said McAllister, who didn’t believe anyone suited the bill.
On Feb. 24, Rep. Duncan D. Hunter made news by being among the first in Congress to endorse Trump. The Alpine Republican later wrote: “In the national game of politics, he’s got a winning message and the backbone to see it through. It’s exactly what Americans want in their president.”
Mayor Kevin Faulconer—a state co-chair for Rubio— didn’t respond to requests for comment on his Plan B guy.
In Faulconer’s case, it’s the June primary, stupid.
“Could have interesting implications for the mayor’s race, particularly now that Rubio, his choice, has dropped out,” Luna said. “Does he go populist Trump, conservative Cruz or staid Kasich? The mayor is good at avoiding tight places, but maybe not this time.”
Citing a possible 2018 run for governor, Luna noted that if Faulconer “wants to go statewide as a ‘kinder, gentler’ Republican, he might need to put some distance between himself and the hard Trump right.”
“Unless you’re hoping for a spot in a future presidential administration, picking a candidate when you don’t have to has limited upsides,” Luna said.
The 2016 Primary Election
When is it?:
Tuesday, June 7