The Washington Post introduces readers to Carl DeMaio in its big “40 Under 40” spread by saying he “first made a splash by narrowly losing the 2012 San Diego mayor’s race to now-former mayor Bob Filner.”

They’re not the first national outlet to point to DeMaio’s “narrow” 2012 loss: The right-wing National Review said “DeMaio narrowly lost the race for San Diego’s mayorship to Democrat Bob Filner.”

The Wall Street Journal also thinks DeMaio “narrowly lost.” Ditto Fox News.

Indeed, any Republican who edged out a Democrat in California in a presidential election year would basically be a political unicorn. Even if DeMaio just fell short of that feat, that’d hint at some major viability and potential.

The problem: He didn’t just fall short. The loss wasn’t narrow.

Maybe we’re employing some selective memory here – I’m sure we’d all like to think we just barely elected Filner given what a spectacular failure he turned out to be. Maybe we’re mixing up the pre-election polls that suggested a tight race – or even a DeMaio win – with the thing that actually happened. Or maybe national outlets just do some fudging when it comes to races that amount to a drop in the bucket of what they’re obligated to follow.

In the end, Filner won the 2012 race for mayor by 5 percentage points.

Filner was undoubtedly buoyed by Democratic voters turning out to support President Barack Obama. But the vote totals are the vote totals. And DeMaio bore the brunt of a labor movement that mobilized against him and Prop. 32.

Filner’s hometown paper pointed out his margin of victory to suggest he won by a lot.

Even before all the votes were counted, it was still never really close.

In the Los Angeles Times’ preliminary story on Filner’s win, it noted that even though there were still uncounted ballots, Filner had “a lead of nearly 10,000 votes.”

DeMaio even conceded the race with thousands of provisional ballots still on the table, meaning he knew he was far enough behind that they wouldn’t have mattered. A “narrow” race is one where the guy in second place hangs on for dear life – hoping to close the divide with one last mail bag or even fight for a recount.

For some outside perspective, consider Republican pollster Dick Morris’ prediction that Mitt Romney would win the presidential election by “4 or 5 points.” The headline for that story? “Dick Morris Says Romney Will Win Handily.” Yep: In most worlds, a 5-point win is a big win.

None of this is to say that DeMaio doesn’t have a good shot – he has a great one.

He’s got lots of money from relentless fundraising, name recognition, a compelling personal story and the deep pockets of the national GOP behind him. He’s energetic, creative in the ways he promotes himself and frames debates better than anyone in town. His opponent eked out a win in a climate much more favorable to Democrats than the one he’ll face this year (now that was a narrow win – Peters beat Brian Bilbray in 2012 by less than a percentage point).

So by all means, national prognosticators, treat DeMaio like the serious contender that he is. He’s so serious, in fact, that there’s no need to invent a neck-and-neck mayoral race to explain why he’s got a shot.

Sara Libby

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

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