If Donna Frye can convince every registered Democrat in the city of San Diego to turn out on Election Day and cast a vote for her, she'll be the next mayor of San Diego-no bubbles about it.
It's a theory that rests on numbers showing that 39 percent of registered voters are Democrats compared to the Republican's 33 percent. But it's a shaky supposition, undermined by a sizable population of highly prized but difficult-to-depend-upon voters who decline to state a party affiliation-and the unwavering fact that even in the most highly publicized presidential elections (let alone an off-year, special election) a significant chunk of party faithful fail to exercise their civic responsibility come Election Day.
And this time around, Frye's ability to keep that chunk to a minimum will decide her fate.
In a city where just a relative handful of votes has separated the new mayor from the runner-up in the past four elections, and the candidate's resources-time, money and manpower-are limited, voter turnout is widely seen as the key to a Frye victory.
"More people voted for Donna last November [against Dick Murphy] than voted for her, in raw numbers, in July," said Larry Remer, a political consultant without a horse in the mayor's race. "If more of those people would have showed up in July, she would have won outright."
Tom Shepard, a political consultant running the campaign of Frye's challenger, Jerry Sanders, said polling data shows little movement amongst the candidates and that the number of undecided voters is low.
"The single remaining variable that can affect outcome is turnout," he said. "So part of Frye's strategy must be... to get her supporters to vote in higher numbers relatively than ours do."
The idea that Election Day will be decided by getting the most supporters to the polls may, on its face, seem a relative no-brainer, but figuring out how to get supporters into voting booths is what keeps consultants employed.
Consultants know that, due to a combination of human nature and campaign-finance laws, motivating loyal members of a candidate's party generally requires less resources than convincing a member of an opponent's party to cross party lines.
Figuring out exactly who those loyalists may be, where they're located and how to target them is the trick.
"I would say Donna's target is probably Democratic women, and it might be Democratic men under a certain age," said Remer. "Then I would take that target and begin to hone in on where are the most votes."
So where should Frye focus her resources? A look at voter turnout in past elections and party-affiliation numbers provided by the county Registrar of Voters shows that City Council District 4, made up of communities in Southeastern San Diego, and District 8, comprising Barrio Logan and points south, rank among the city's largest Democratic strongholds in terms of their percentages of registered voters while consistently featuring the lowest voter turnouts.
In July's special mayoral primary election, only 32 and 28 percent of registered voters in Districts 4 and 8, respectively, made it to the polls-well below the citywide average of 42 percent. Even in last November's high-turnout presidential showdown, District 8 and 4 turnouts hovered 7 and 6 percentage points, respectively, below the next lowest district.
With so much room for improvement, Districts 4 and 8 seem like obvious geographic targets for the Frye camp to launch a massive get-out-the-vote campaign, and while Frye's team is keeping its strategy secret, political operatives warn that may be too broad an approach.
"The game is about numbers; it's not about percentages," said Remer, who added that rather than target an entire district, it's more efficient to take a more precise approach and focus on specific individuals in precincts, smaller geographic areas established by the Registrar of Voters. Remer points toward greener pastures, like District 3, comprised of Hillcrest and Mid-city neighborhoods, where a greater number of regular Democratic voters live.
"Once you know where the voters are, you then you have got to figure out what motivates them, and not just what motivates them but logistically what you can do to get them out," Remer said. "And that goes to deciding what are your resources. How many arrows do you have at your quiver? You don't want to shoot arrows at targets that you can't hit or are too far away."
And Shepard notes there are other risks with a larger get-out-the-vote approach.
"You may be turning as many of your opponents voters out as your own," he said. "That would certainly be the case in District 8, where we think we are going to be successful in competing for a significant hunk of the votes in that district.
"If [Frye's] strategy is simply to increase strategy in District 8 or District 4, then I think she is going to be surprised."
Currently working to elect Frye, Jess Durfee, chairman of the San Diego County Democratic Party, said he sees increasing turnout in Districts 4 and 8 as "critical" to a Frye victory, but agrees with Remer that Frye will also have to target other areas.
"There is a focus on making sure we turn out the traditional Democrats who didn't turn out last time," he said. "District 3 had a fairly good turnout and it was Donna's strongest district, but the turnout could have been higher there."
Which doesn't mean the Frye campaign is backing off of Districts 4 and 8.
"We have spent a lot of time in both of those districts," said Nicole Capretz, Frye's campaign manager. "We feel like there are a lot of voters who are philosophically aligned with Donna and really appreciate her."
Shepard, who said he's not comfortable with Sanders' lead in the polls, says he'll be fighting for every vote, especially in District 8.
"Our strategy is that Jerry has got a fair number of longstanding relationships with people in the neighborhoods of that district based primarily upon his experience as police chief," he said. "We're going back to those people and recruiting their assistance in reaching out in their neighborhoods."
That's the plan for now, but with less than a month to go, Frye's nearly universal name recognition and the expectation that union members with Frye sympathies will turn out in force to oppose several statewide ballot measures, Shepard knows he has reason to worry."The polling data that I've seen shows that the lower the turnout the worse she does."