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Susan Golding’s 1992 bid for San Diego mayor looked to be in trouble. Her opponent, Peter Navarro, had dropped a devastating television ad playing up the money-laundering conviction of Dick Silbermann, Golding’s ex-husband.
She dropped 11 points in the polls and, the Friday before the election, Navarro maintained a double-digit lead. Her political consultant, Tom Shepard, prepared to break the news to the candidate as she readied for the final live television debate days before the election.
George Gorton, who acted as advisor in the wings for the campaign, stopped him. As was usually the case, Gorton displayed an instinctive feel for how the campaign would shake out, and he knew his candidate well. However, he knew Golding even better than most; they’d dated for four years. And he thought that Golding wouldn’t even show up for the television debate if she knew she was losing by that margin.
“George decided she shouldn’t know the results of the poll because she would be a basket case,” Shepard says.
When she took the stage the Sunday night before the election, she didn’t know by how much she was trailing. Toward the end of the debate, Golding confronted Navarro on the television commercial, saying it had hurt her and her kids and had nothing to do with the election. She became emotional and angry.
The exchange left women voters feeling for her, Shepard says, and Golding won her first of two terms as San Diego mayor days later.
To this day, Golding didn’t know the extent of the gap in the polls between her and her opponent those days before the election. Shepard credits Gorton’s foresight as instrumental in the victory. Although Gorton by that time was in a big-time statewide, and indeed international, consultant, Golding called on her ex-boyfriend to pop in and oversee the campaign periodically.
“I would’ve told her she had no chance and she wouldn’t have shown up for the debate,” Shepard says.