In 2008, Mayor Jerry Sanders easily won re-election, drubbing his challenger, Steve Francis, who only got 34 percent of the vote.

Francis had spent nearly $5 million of his own money on the campaign. That’s roughly $68 for each of the 73,655 votes he received.

After the race, Steve Powell, a San Diegan who produces campaign commercials, mostly for Republicans, told me something. He suggested I take a look at how Francis swung his arms as he walked in his commercials and you’ll see why he didn’t connect with voters. His gait was awkward and self-conscious. Others mentioned something similar.

I ended up walking around far too conscious of how I was swinging my arms. It was horrifying to think that how you swung your arms could cripple a major career goal (or kill a $5 million investment of any kind).

That was way too much swing, Scott. Get a grip!

Many, many reasons led to Francis’ failed bid. Money wasn’t enough to overcome them.

Political consultant John Kern, the former chief of staff for Mayor Dick Murphy, also gave me an observation I’ve always kept handy, “You don’t need more money than your rivals, you just need enough.”

Think of race cars. You can have the fastest car in a race, but if you aren’t able to drive well, you won’t win.

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This year, those who follow San Diego’s politics are going to be treated to one of the best mayoral races in this town’s history. But like a good poker game, the four prominent candidates facing off this round had to ante in.

You see, unlike any recent cycle, this year, we have an open field. Because of the city’s complex campaign finance laws, they had one month — June — to collect as much money as they could before the first report would come out about how it went.

Kern figured $100,000 was the ante amount. You should be able to raise that in the first month to show you’re in the game. Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher went first. He raised more than $320,000 in the month. The former Marine wants San Diego to embrace a bright new future — becoming the kind of place that builds infrastructure to support an innovative economy.

So he has a clear vision of this exciting city: the end. But he’s fuzzy on the means. He’s been quiet on what specifically he’d do to cure San Diego’s financial funk, and nothing goes forward as long as we’re suffering through it.

This contrasts with his contemporaneous rival, Councilman Carl DeMaio. DeMaio announced he’d raised $271,000 and matched it all with his own contribution. The 36-year-old — two years Fletchers’ senior — has an encyclopedic knowledge of the city’s finances and the problems it faces. He’s so focused on the finances, in fact, he’s less clear on what he’d actually do if they were all cleared up. It’s as if constant financial reform and warfare with the employee unions is itself an end.

Then there are the political veterans: Congressman Bob Filner and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. Filner raised $100,000 (he anteed in!). Dumanis reported roughly $150,000. Every endorsement she advertises mentions her experience as a “chief executive.” If you liked the risk-averse but gracious competence of the incumbent, here’s a female version, armed with the blunt charm of a classic New England accent.

Filner is DeMaio’s opposite. Just as hard of a worker. Just as passionate. But miles away on policy. He’ll be a classic left-wing progressive, someone who’ll likely argue that taxes and compromise close deficits faster than fighting with unions.

But he, like the others, will need enough money to compete — not more than the others, just enough.

Although money and ideas might not matter if they don’t swing their arms right.

This also appeared in the September 2011 issue of San Diego Magazine.

You can contact me directly at or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it’s a blast!):

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Scott Lewis

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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