Friday, May 23, 2008 | Council President Scott Peters pulled ahead of the pack in fundraising in the city attorney’s race, collecting more than $80,000 from supporters and lending himself $250,000 in the past two months for a campaign which included the race’s only television advertisement, according to the latest campaign disclosures filed Thursday.

In a race that has become remarkable for its lackluster fundraising, Peters’ City Council colleague Brian Maienschein raised about $20,000 from mid-March to mid-May, less than one-third as much as he raised in the first three months of the year and less than half the $57,419 his Republican rival Jan Goldsmith raised in the same period.

Maienschein, aided by a $250,000 war chest he built up in an uncontested run for City Council in 2004, began digging into that fund in this reporting period, spending $230,000 in the two-month span.

Incumbent Mike Aguirre also improved markedly on his poor showing in March, when he raised just $7,474. From mid-March to mid-May, Aguirre raised more than $31,000. Amy Lepine’s campaign did not file a statement before Thursday’s deadline.

Maienschein said the latest figures are less important than the overall amounts each candidate has raised in the race so far. “If you look at the totals that I’ve raised, I’m still very comfortable with that,” he said.

Local Republican political consultant Tom Shepard, who is not involved in the race, said Thursday’s figures are mostly remarkable for how little money the candidates are raising.

“These numbers would be somewhat embarrassing for a City Council candidate and these folks are running citywide,” Shepard said. “None of them, with the exception of Peters and Maienschein — because he had that money saved up — have the resources to run effective citywide campaigns.”

Peters bolstered his $80,000-plus in campaign donations with $250,000 in contributions out of his own pocket. That gave him enough funding to be the only city attorney candidate to run television advertising in recent weeks.

Maienschein has spent more than $50,000 on radio advertisements and tens of thousands more on campaign mailers. But Shepard said Peters, with his independent wealth, has a distinct advantage over his opponents in a lackluster fundraising climate.

“Of all these candidates, he is the only one who has the resources to run anything approximating a citywide campaign,” Shepard said.

Aguirre also has his own advantages over the competition, said Democratic political consultant Chris Crotty, who is not involved in the race. Apart from being on television almost every day in his role as city attorney, Aguirre is almost guaranteed to get through June’s primary election, Crotty said, which means he can sit back and save his money until after June 3.

If no one candidate wins more than 50 percent of the votes in the June primary, the top two vote winners proceed to a runoff election, to be held in November.

Aguirre also has enough name recognition in San Diego that he doesn’t have to spend money telling people who he is and what he stands for, Crotty said.

“People who don’t read the paper every day might look at City Hall and say ‘It’s a mess, and there’s only one guy down there I ever hear of who’s kicking some butt and taking names, and that’s Mike Aguirre,’” Crotty said.

In comparison, Goldsmith is striving to resurrect a political career that’s been on hold for a decade.

And Crotty said Goldsmith hasn’t raised enough money to resonate with conservative voters he will have to win over from Maienschein. Maienschein may not have raised enough money to run an effective citywide campaign, Crotty said, but he may have sufficient capital to corral enough conservative voters to get him through June’s primary.

The next two weeks of the campaign could prove crucial.

In a race that local political observers say is too close to call, a final burst of advertising could give one candidate an advantage over the others. Maienschein has spent much of his campaign war chest, though some of that advertising could still be coming down the pike. Goldsmith is struggling to raise enough to make his name known and Aguirre is resting on his laurels, while many eyes are trained on the Peters campaign to see how much the council president is willing to spend.

But Peters, whose independent wealth stems mainly from his wife’s side of the family, wouldn’t say how deep his pockets go on this one.

“In case you write this and my wife reads it, we have a budget,” Peters said. “We’re on plan for what we set out (to spend).”

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