One non-San Diegan could have a large effect on November’s mayoral election: Barack Obama.
The president got credit, at least in part, for helping fellow Democrats Marti Emerald and Sherri Lightner become City Council members four years ago.
Obama’s on the ballot again in November. And during this lull in the mayor’s race between Republican City Councilman Carl DeMaio and Democratic Congressman Bob Filner, I began wondering how much Obama or any other factors beyond the control of the two candidates will matter.
I emailed four folks who know these sorts of things better than I do. Their responses are below.
My question: How much do you think macro political issues outside of the two San Diego mayoral candidates’ control, chiefly the presidential election but also state ballot measures and other issues, will affect the mayor’s race? A lot, a little or in between? What will the most important macro issues be, and overall do they favor Carl DeMaio or Bob Filner?
Here are three takeaways from their comments:
• Tying Filner to Obama would help the congressman, but both he and the local Democratic Party have to work hard to make it happen.
• The state of economy likely will be at the front of voters’ minds, even though the mayor has much less direct influence on economic development than he does on other big ticket issues, such as pensions or roads.
• Voter turnout will be much higher than it was during the primary, but the electorate likely will be younger and less informed.
Republican political consultant John Hoy:
The presidential race and the state of the economy will serve as the backdrop for the mayor’s race. The presidential campaign always drives overall voter turnout and the poor shape of the economy this year will shape how voters consider issues.
To single out some specific issues within the economy, the unemployment rate is obviously key, but this year the Eurozone financial crisis has the potential to powerfully shape voter mood. If the situation there goes downhill dramatically in the next 90 days, I think the repercussions here will be significant.
To single out some factors closer to home, the tax increases on the statewide ballot will affect the mayor’s race. The current support for those measures will erode substantially by Election Day, and that will benefit Councilman DeMaio, since he’s the fiscally responsible one in the race.
Political scientist Vlad Kogan:
The race will certainly hinge on “macro” issues, but not the macro issues you point to. The most important factors shaping the election are: (1) partisanship (of the voters); (2) state of the economy. Partisanship matters hugely because it is the main factor that will determine who voters support, even in a non-partisan race likes this one. People don’t pay much attention to local politics or know a whole lot about the candidates, so the partisan labels convey a great deal of information without requiring voters to spend much effort or energy on researching the race. That’s why the latest polls show that this is very much a partisan race. The state of the economy matters as well, although to a substantially smaller degree, because it determines which issues will be most salient in the minds of the voters. It’s clear that both candidates will be talking about jobs for the next four months — even though there is very little that the mayor can actually do to affect the state of the economy, which is driven by national and global tides and cycles.
The presidential and statewide races matter only indirectly, by shaping the patterns of turnout and mobilization in the election. When there are high-profile races on the ballot, you get greater overall turnout and a smaller gap in turnout rates between Democrats and Republicans. In November 2010, for example, turnout among registered Republicans in the city was more than 72 percent, compared to 64 percent for Democrats. By contrast, in November 2008, the gap was less than 2 percentage points. The fact that the mayor’s race is held on the same day as the presidential race should, all else held constant, help Filner. However, all else is not held constant. As I pointed out before, Democrats in San Diego have a huge ballot roll-off problem. In the closest local races in 2008, almost one in seven Obama voters did not even bother casting a ballot in the city races. This reflects the weakness of the local party in doing member communications and raising awareness of its candidates’ “brand name.” If roll off stays that high in this election, the turnout gains produced by the Obama’s campaigns mobilization efforts will bear few fruits for Filner.
Democratic political consultant Larry Remer:
The principal “macro” event impacting the mayor’s race is the presidential election, which guarantees a 70 percent-plus voter turnout. In brief, I expect turnout of 42 percent Democrat, 33 percent Republican and 25 percent decline-to-state or other. This turnout model favors Filner because it assures that the number of Democrats voting will outnumber Republicans by 9 to 10 percent.
Turnout is important because it assures the “audience” that will be participating will be “open” to a message from a Democrat like Filner. But this is not a classic “down ballot” race like Assembly or State Senate where a party affiliation can almost assure victory. A mayor’s race is high profile, i.e., it is followed in the big media (notably TV) and voters develop opinions about the candidates both personal and political. So, a registration edge can help but not assure victory.
Filner will have to work to bring home the Democrats. He ran behind Democratic turnout in June. Three Republicans (Nathan Fletcher, no matter what he says, is a Republican) grabbed a hair under 70 percent. He needs to offer a compelling vision of what “Mayor Filner” can/will do. His solar energy program is a good start. After 20 years of Republican Misrule in San Diego, the field has been plowed for a badly needed new direction.
Republican political consultant Tom Shepard:
The following external issues could impact the mayoral campaign:
• Turnout will likely be twice that of June. In general, new voters will be younger and less informed on issues and candidates.
• Because of the presidential election, national issues related to healthcare, taxation, the economy, job creation and immigration will be top of mind with many voters.
• Well-financed state ballot measures related to taxation, paycheck protection, education funding and other issues may also draw attention of voters. If unions mount a significant effort to turnout supporters on these issues, they could have an impact on the composition of the electorate.
• Failure of the state legislature to constructively address public employee pension reform could keep this issue on the front burner.
• Independent expenditures played a significant role in the mayoral primary. This may also be the case in the runoff.
• Management of the region’s major daily newspaper appears willing to use the newspaper as a tool for advocacy in this race.
It’s too early to assess impact, other than the obvious — a younger electorate that is less aware of previous issues and a major push by labor to enhance turnout probably favor Filner if he has the resources to communicate with non-primary voters, and a continuing focus on pension issues and aggressive advocacy by the daily newspaper probably favor DeMaio.
Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big building projects. What should he write about next?
Please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.550.5663.
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