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I’m new to San Diego.

Frankly, because I am not a white man and don’t have a pension, it’s been hard to find a connection with most of the candidates so far. Nor does the ultimate location of a football stadium have much impact on my daily life. Yet despite seemingly thousands of mayoral debates, and millions pumped into the 52nd Congressional District race, those topics have dwarfed any talk of issues that might affect me directly and the ways in which I enjoy this city. Until now.

As part of their final sprint to the finish line, many local candidates have taken an abrupt turn toward emotional appeals and heart-wrenching stories, and to get those pitches out they’ve enlisted several women.

New ads from mayoral candidates Bob Filner and Carl DeMaio, and Rep. Brian Bilbray all ditch the pension and budget talk in favor of young women telling deeply personal stories meant to stir your passions.

Let’s take a look at some of these ads:

Bilbray’s Daughter

Bilbray, who is running for re-election in a drastically reconfigured district, has spent the bulk of his campaign attacking his opponent, Democrat Scott Peters, by painting him as corrupt. A recent ad from the National Republican Congressional Committee uses scary electrical buzzing sounds as it charges: “Scott Peters helped cause a national scandal by deliberately underfunding our pension system.” That’s about par for the course for this race.

But Bilbray sets a new tone by approving his latest ad with a special caveat: “I’m Brian Bilbray, and I approved this ad because some things are more important than politics.”

The ad stars Bilbray’s daughter Briana Bilbray, who sits in a warmly lit living room and says, straight to the camera, “I’m Briana Bilbray, and I have terminal cancer.” She says Bilbray is “bringing both sides together” to fight cancer, and that when he says it’s the most important thing he’ll ever do, “I believe him — he’s my dad.”

You can examine Bilbray’s stances on a wide range of health issues at the nonpartisan Project Vote Smart, and determine whether his record matches the priorities he lays out in this ad. But the emotional resonance of the commercial is undeniable. And it stands out all the more because of the toxic tenor of the campaign up to this point.

DeMaio and Filner also have new heart-tugging ads out featuring women, but with a twist: Whereas Briana Bilbray paints her dad as a caring crusader, Filner and DeMaio each use these women’s stories to portray their opponent as cruel and cold.

The Cop’s Kids

Filner’s ad features Conner and Kaylee Wilson, siblings whose police officer father was killed in the line of duty — the camera drops Conner for a portion of the ad and focuses on Kaylee as she says, “You can imagine how we felt when Carl DeMaio voted not once but twice against death benefits for families of slain police officers.” Pretty brutal.

The Aggrieved Airport Worker

In DeMaio’s ad, a woman identified as “Joanne” describes in incredibly vague terms a run-in she had with Filner. Engaged voters will know she’s referring to an incident where Filner became aggressive when trying to get his baggage after a flight to D.C. Otherwise, you might think Joanne is describing a violent crime — more than one local observer has pointed out that her recollections (“I’ll never forget, he told me, ‘You can’t stop me’”) are a not-so-subtle suggestion that something sexual took place. It didn’t.

Those are about as far from pension minutiae as it gets. DeMaio turned his back on the families of slain police officers. Filner physically threatened an innocent woman. We’ve already dissected the validity of those insinuations — surprise! they both omit crucial details — but both have the potential to shape someone’s view of the candidates, particularly if they haven’t been following the race closely.

Many national races this season have been almost laser-focused on women voters and issues affecting women, but that hasn’t been the case in either local race, for the most part. The ads in question do, however, subtly seek to harness these women’s stories and to emotionally cajole undecided voters, the majority of whom are women, according to recent polling.

These women have important stories to share, but the fact that we’re only now hearing them means some pretty craven politics are at work.

If you care about cancer and its effect on families, health benefits for widows and children, and safety and violence toward women, then say so — loudly and often. As it stands, all these efforts are akin to a college student slapping together a term paper the same morning it’s due.

Unfortunately, the paper was due months ago.

Sara Libby is VOSD’s managing editor. She oversees VOSD’s newsroom and its content. You can reach her at sara.libby@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0526.

Disclosure: Voice of San Diego members and supporters may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover. For a complete list of our contributors, click here.

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Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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