We’ve decided to include all our efforts to understand the 2016 election under the banner of San Diego Decides. As part of that, I’ll be writing a biweekly look at what’s happening in the races facing San Diego voters in 2016. It’ll include new reporting, follow-ups on bigger stories and a round-up of other coverage of local races. To get the complete picture of the local election landscape, make sure you also check out the San Diego Decides podcast, hosted by Sara Libby and Ry Rivard. — Andrew Keatts


This post has been updated.

San Diego’s conservative consultants are dusting off an old favorite.

For the third straight citywide election, they are directing spending not just to help their favored candidate, but also their favored opponent.

San Diego Decides

This time, they are boosting Democratic city attorney candidate Rafael Castellanos ahead of the June primary – along with their actual choice, Republican Robert Hickey.

Four years ago, when groups like the conservative Lincoln Club supported Carl DeMaio in the mayoral primary, they didn’t want to run against Nathan Fletcher in the general election.

But they didn’t just spend money attacking Fletcher. They also spent money telling Democrats that Filner was the Democratic choice. DeMaio’s strategist event bragged about it to inewsource.

It didn’t work. They did manage to get Filner through the primary but Filner ended up winning in November.

A year later, Filner flamed out and the Lincoln Club again decided to pick its opponent for the general election.

Again, it didn’t want to run against Fletcher. It spent money to sink him and lift up Democratic City Councilman David Alvarez.

It worked. The group helped sink Fletcher, then Faulconer beat Alvarez in the general election.

It’s happening all over again in the city attorney’s race. This time, it appears they want to run against Castellanos, a port commissioner.

A new mail piece went out last week that ended up in a lot of Democratic homes. It was ostensibly a piece supporting Hickey, but you’d be forgiven for not recognizing it as such.


Castellanos is front and center, surrounded by a nice big blue box that draws your eye. It refers to him as someone who fights for poor people. It touts his high-profile Democratic endorsements.

Fighting for poor people and getting endorsed by Kamala Harris might be negatives to Republicans, but not Democrats. Lots of Democrats got this in their mailboxes.

It also unleashes an “attack of omission” on Democratic candidate Gil Cabrera, who you might have noticed isn’t mentioned at all. Instead of attacking him, they just deprived him of any attention, and the increased name identification that comes with it.

It doesn’t do Democratic candidate Mara Elliott any favors, either. For one, it erroneously says she was endorsed by her boss, Republican City Attorney Jan Goldsmith. Though you’d be forgiven for not getting that from Elliott’s ballot statement, which touts this quote from Goldsmith:


The mailer also says Elliott will fight for increased fiscal audits and competitive bidding of city services – two things that would appeal to fiscal conservatives but which are not part of Elliott’s platform.

The design is unmistakable: Castellanos is the Democrat in the race. If you’re a Democrat, he’s your guy. It’s not clear why the Lincoln Club would do this or why the group would prefer Castellanos in the runoff.

“We’ve endorsed Robert Hickey,” said Brian Pepin, the group’s executive director, who declined to go into more detail about the mailer.

Update: After this post published, Hickey’s campaign manager Sara Kamiab sent over this response: “Those mailers do not reflect Robert Hickey’s message or motivation for seeking the office. We believe they are doing more harm than good and wish they would stop. Robert is confident in his ability to win in November, regardless of who emerges in June.”

What Candidates’ Donors Reveal About Them

Mayoral candidate Lori Saldaña is the most liberal candidate in any San Diego race. Rep. Darrell Issa, fresh off endorsing Donald Trump for president, is the most conservative.

At least, that’s if you accept the premise behind Crowdpac, the organization that places candidates on an ideological spectrum based on who their financial supporters are and to which candidates those supporters have donated in previous elections.

The company has a new ballot guide breaking down each race by the ideological predisposition of each candidate’s supporters.

The independent mayoral candidate Saldaña’s supporters put her to the left of every local candidate. Issa, likewise, has the most support of people who are reliable conservative donors.

The most moderate candidate running in San Diego, meanwhile, is Anthony Bernal, Democratic candidate running in San Diego’s City Council District 3. Bernal has been pummeled by his opponents for accepting donations from conservative donors – especially developer Doug Manchester – but he actually grades out closer to the ideological center than any other candidate.

Escondido Mayor Sam Abed is likewise among the most moderate candidates on the June ballot. He’s trying to unseat Democrat Dave Roberts as county supervisor in coastal North County, a swing district. Abed’s Republican opponent in the three-person race, Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar, has a much more conservative support base.

Liberal Donors Warm to Faulconer

Over the course of the mayoral race, Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s support has gradually shifted closed to the center of the ideological spectrum, according to Crowdpac’s data.

That is, early in the race he got money from his traditional, conservative donor base. But as it’s gotten closer to Election Day, more and more people who traditionally donate to liberals decided Faulconer wasn’t so bad.

But that’s unique to this election. His opponent three years ago, Democrat David Alvarez, pulled in the moderate Democratic donors who are now giving to Faulconer.

Andrew Keatts is a former managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego.

Leave a comment

We expect all commenters to be constructive and civil. We reserve the right to delete comments without explanation. You are welcome to flag comments to us. You are welcome to submit an opinion piece for our editors to review.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.