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Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2008 | City attorney challenger Jan Goldsmith has raised almost six times as much money as incumbent Mike Aguirre in the last three months, according to campaign filing records.

With less than a month to go before Election Day, the challenger said he’s still expecting Aguirre to pump plenty of his own money into the campaign. But in the last three months Aguirre hasn’t tapped his personal wealth, accumulated as a successful plaintiffs’ attorney, at all. The incumbent has spent just $22,500 on his campaign since the beginning of the year, according to his campaign filings. In contrast, Aguirre spent more than $500,000 on his campaign in 2004.

Goldsmith pulled in $232,899 between July 1 and Sept. 30, according to his filings, while Aguirre collected $39,545. Since the beginning of the year, Goldsmith has raised $357,672 and his campaign has spent about $218,000. That leaves the challenger with a war chest of more than $100,000 going into the last month of the campaign.

He said he’ll need it. He believes Aguirre will begin pumping money into the campaign soon. “I expect him to do a lot of bashing,” Goldsmith said.

Aguirre wouldn’t comment on his plans for self-financing or on his limited spending on the campaign thus far. “I’m a gradualist, I don’t want to do things precipitously,” was all he would say. He said Goldsmith’s strong fundraising shows he has sold out to special interest groups.

“The people that want something from government, not what’s best from government as a whole, are financing his campaign,” Aguirre said.

Since the beginning of the much-watched campaign, Aguirre has said that he plans on letting the voters judge him on his record, and that he doesn’t have much time for the day-to-day mechanics of campaigning like fundraising because he’s too busy being the best city attorney he can be.

That day-to-day work as city attorney has guaranteed Aguirre plenty of local radio, television and other media coverage.

For example, on Monday morning, he held a well-stocked press conference to announce that he might drop a contentious lawsuit he filed earlier this year against Bank of America in light of a settlement agreement reached between 11 states’ attorneys general and Countrywide Financial Corp.

In the afternoon, he rushed to the downtown courthouse to hear that a mistrial had been declared in a lawsuit brought against the city by four firefighters who claim they were sexually harassed when they were ordered to take part in last year’s gay pride parade.

Both events will no doubt glean plenty of media coverage for Aguirre, who has spent much of the last four years in front of television cameras or on the front page of local newspapers.

Goldsmith said San Diego’s voters can see through Aguirre’s hunger for publicity. Though he acknowledged that Aguirre has a “sixth sense” for sniffing out media exposure, which makes running against him a constant challenge, Goldsmith said the incumbent often does more harm than good.

“When you go out and file lawsuits and then have to abruptly dismiss them; when you file lawsuits and you don’t hear about it any more; when you lose, then you bash the judge, then you appeal, most people see through that,” he said.

Political consultant Tom Shepard, who is not affiliated with either campaign, said he doubts that Goldsmith’s campaign has enough money in the bank to do battle with Aguirre’s constant publicity. Without a significant injection of cash into his campaign, Goldsmith can’t run an effective citywide publicity campaign before November, Shepard said.

“Goldsmith does not have the ability to secure the amount of media coverage that Aguirre gets, so if he’s going to get his message out, he’s going to have to pay for it and he’s going to need money to do that,” Shepard said.

But Shepard echoed Goldsmith’s claim that all the publicity Aguirre wins is not necessarily good for his image. Aguirre’s media coverage is controlled by journalists, not by his campaign staff, Shepard said, which can be a double-edged sword.

“His problem, between now and November, is convincing voters that even if they have misgivings about his judgment and the way he’s conducted himself, he’s still deserving of their vote because of other things he’s accomplished,” Shepard said. “That’s a tough message to get out if you’re relying entirely on reporters to get it out for you.”

Aguirre’s campaign isn’t entirely relying on the media, however. Despite raising far less cash than his opponent, Aguirre is the only one of the two candidates running television commercials. In those commercials, he makes almost exactly the point Shepard said he needs to make.

“Sure I could’ve done some things differently. Probably should have,” he says.

He continues: “But as city attorney my job is to protect the city and the taxpayers, not sell them out. I could’ve had the support of the power brokers if I’d have gone along with their financial scheme. That’s why the city’s pension system is $1 billion in the hole.”

Please contact Will Carless directly at will.carless@voiceofsandiego.org with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or set the tone of the debate with a letter to the editor.

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