Wednesday, June 4, 2008 | For some months, there has been little doubt that City Attorney Mike Aguirre would be facing a runoff election this November. Most City Hall observers and political consultants presumed the incumbent had a solid base of support hovering between 25 and 30 percent that would carry him through Tuesday’s primary.

The real question in the city attorney’s race was whose name would be on the ballot with Aguirre. He was facing a trio of well-financed and high-profile candidates in City Councilmen Scott Peters and Brian Maienschein and Superior Court Judge Jan Goldsmith.

On Tuesday, that question was answered emphatically when Goldsmith not only won enough votes to join Aguirre in the runoff but bested Aguirre in total votes too, winning 32.14 percent of the vote to Aguirre’s 28.98 percent.

Goldsmith’s coup is a huge blow to Aguirre, said Larry Remer, a Democratic political consultant who is not involved in the race. Remer said Aguirre’s now got to make the choice whether to invest a half a million or $1 million of his own money into his campaign on the off-chance that he wins a majority of the 70-plus percent of San Diego voters who voted against him Tuesday. Remer said the odds in that wager aren’t in Aguirre’s favor.

“I would bet that he’s not going to win,” Remer said. “I would bet that there are too many long knives after him.”

Peters, long considered Goldsmith’s closest rival, won 20.37 percent of the vote. Maienschein won 12.59 percent and Democratic attorney Amy Lepine won 5.93 percent.

With Maienschein, Peters and Lepine out of the picture, the race for city attorney enters a new paradigm.

Since the beginning of the year, Aguirre’s four challengers have been battling it out against each other in candidates’ forums and televised debates. The two Republicans, Maienschein and Goldsmith, have been attacking each other with combative mailers while Peters has pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into a campaign that has focused on Aguirre.

Meanwhile, Aguirre has almost sat back and watched, choosing instead, he said, to let voters judge him by his record since 2005 in the City Attorney’s Office. He has spent very little money compared to the other candidates and has been notably absent from the campaign trail.

Now, Goldsmith will charge ahead with the support of the Republican Party. He is also likely to start eking money out of Republican donors, who have been recalcitrant in their campaign donations during a primary campaign which featured two heavy-hitting Republican candidates, Goldsmith and Maienschein.

Aguirre was unable to gain the support of the Democratic Party both before and after Peters, a fellow Democrat, entered the race.

Meanwhile, the political powerhouse of organized labor, left without its standard-bearer in the race, Scott Peters, must decide whether to throw its weight behind one of the two remaining candidates. Both candidates have run afoul of labor, Goldsmith with his conservative past and Aguirre with his legal challenges to employee pension benefits.

If the labor unions support Goldsmith — a not-inconceivable scenario given their dislike for Aguirre — the incumbent will be left facing down political juggernauts from both the left and the right of the political spectrum.

Past midnight on Wednesday, Goldsmith could be seen deep in conversation with Lorena Gonzalez, secretary-treasurer of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, an umbrella group for local labor unions. Evan McLaughlin, political director of the labor council, who has been a vocal critic of Goldsmith’s run for office thus far, said the council’s members will have to vote on which candidate, if any, to support now that Peters is out of the race.

“We know (Goldsmith’s) record at the Legislature and we know he chose to take a very hard stance against workers,” McLaughlin said.

Goldsmith said he’ll take support from wherever he can get it. “I would love support from Democrats, labor, decline-to-states, Republicans, liberals, and conservatives,” he said.

Aguirre, who was in Princeton, N.J. at his daughter’s graduation Tuesday, could not be reached for comment.

He plans to return to San Diego on Wednesday. When he does, he will have to come face-to-face with the fact that almost three-quarters of voters decided on Tuesday that he’s not the best choice for city attorney of San Diego.

Please contact Will Carless directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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