When the first results came in Tuesday night, Steve Francis’ campaign insisted everything was cool. Yes, 52 percent of voters had supported incumbent Mayor Jerry Sanders. But that’s right where things were supposed to be, the campaign said.

The arguments — some might call them spin — about why Francis was doing fine despite the fact that he was losing evolved through the evening.

The campaign argued that absentee voters hadn’t received the full brunt of Francis’ progressive message, which picked up after his Sierra Club and union endorsements — even though Francis’ television commercials had been running since February.

I talked to Francis in his campaign suite shortly after. “Anything below 50 (percent) should send him (Sanders) a very chilling message,” he said.

But that never happened.

At 11:01 p.m., with news broadcasts hungry for something, anything, and no new results pending, campaign manager Charles Gallagher took the podium. He said he was optimistic.

Thirty minutes later, when 35 percent of the votes were in and Sanders declared victory, Francis came down to address the cameras. Two-thirds of voters still hadn’t been accounted for, he said. Gallagher said he’d seen elections further along change course before. He said he was watching results come in from other districts and was still hopeful. But Francis and Gallagher both described themselves as discouraged.

While they spoke, more returns came in. Half of San Diego had spoken, and the situation hadn’t changed a bit. Gallagher dismissed it.

“I’m taking it an hour at a time right now,” Gallagher said. “We’ll make some decisions in the next hour.”

The campaign’s supporters didn’t stick around. As the once-vibrant rally went silent, the sticker-wearing supporters and chants of “si se puede” disappeared. The Motown was turned off and a few television cameras stuck around only hoping to catch a glimpse of workers tearing down Francis signs. “It would make a great live shot,” one reporter said.

Francis and his consultants retreated to the confines of Suite 203, holding out hope that half of San Diego’s voters were somehow not representative of the other half. An hour later, Francis had slipped out of the U.S. Grant. Gallagher said he wouldn’t be making any remarks. He’d gone to sleep.


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