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 roundup 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
Democrats are salivating over the possibility that negative views of Donald Trump will filter down ballot, sinking his fellow Republicans running for Congress, Senate and other state and local offices around the country.
Here in San Diego, for instance, the Democratic Party has blanketed the airwaves with ads highlighting Rep. Darrell Issa’s steadfast support for Trump, in hopes it can carry Doug Applegate to an upset over the seven-term congressman.
But further down ballot, there aren’t many local races pitting a Republican versus a Democrat.
Instead, the question is, could a wave of anti-Trump voters affect ballot measures that aren’t explicitly partisan?
Measure A, for instance, would raise sales taxes countywide to pay for transportation and infrastructure projects. It has both bipartisan support and bipartisan opposition.
Likewise, the Chargers stadium initiative, Measure C, which would raise hotel taxes to build a joint stadium-convention center downtown, has won supporters and opponents from both ends of the political spectrum.
Consultants working on the measures or who are familiar with polling on them are split on how an anti-Trump wave – or more generally, higher Democratic turnout – would affect their prospects.
“If higher-than-usual Democratic turnout materializes, there will be a positive effect on Measure A and no substantial effect on Measure C. Measure C is not a partisan issue,” said John Nienstedt, a local pollster who gauged public support for Measure A when the San Diego Association of Governments was still crafting it and who has done multiple Chargers stadium polls.
The Chargers aren’t so sure.
David Carney, a New Hampshire-based consultant handling voter targeting for the Chargers, said any turnout that’s above normal expectations is good for the Chargers.
“If 100 percent of San Diego votes, we get our two-thirds,” he said. “Our base of support, beyond the fan base, is mostly low-propensity voters. The anti-Trump phenomenon would be good for San Diego getting a stadium. Any effort to turn out low-propensity voters, the better for us.”
The team has Spanish-language ads and Spanish-speaking volunteers going door to door to turn out Latinos who disproportionately favor the measure, he said. Forty-five percent of all voters the campaign is targeting are Latino. Representatives from labor unions, especially the construction unions in the San Diego Building Trades, make up the campaign’s ground game, Carney said.
“The more energized voters are to turn out, the better it is for us,” he said. “So we’re hoping for a historic turnout number.”
Ryan Clumpner, a local political consultant working on the Measure A campaign, said the presidential race could drive a 3 to 5 percent partisan shift in the electorate that would help both Measure A and Measure C. But turnout isn’t the biggest issue facing those measures, he argued.
“Ballot fatigue is a far greater threat to any down-ticket measure that depends on the support of casual voters,” he said. “These would include Measures A, C and D.”
Clumpner’s referring to the voters who lose interest as they make their way through especially long ballots and, once they get past high-profile races like president and Senate, leave other decisions blank.
The campaign opposing Measure A, though, said increased turnout from voters who don’t always vote but tend to vote for Democrats – those who would be most motivated to turn out and vote against Trump – won’t benefit the transportation tax.
The Democratic Party voted to oppose the measure, said Gretchen Newsom, political director for IBEW, a labor union opposed to Measure A, and is encouraging its voters to do the same. The campaign is amplifying that message through liberal allies like labor unions, the Sierra Club and social justice groups, she said.
“The message is being sent out to Democratic voters to oppose it,” Newsom said.
An Unlikely Spokesperson for Measure B
With Measure B, county voters will decide whether Accretive Investments should be able to build 1,700 homes in Valley Center, a community in the rural, northeastern part of San Diego County.
It’s surprising, then, that the most prominent face on television supporting the measure is someone who represents the southwestern corner of the county: Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas.
“As the mayor of Chula Vista, I talk to a lot of young couples that are looking for housing, and they simply can’t find it,” Salas says in an ad supporting Measure B that’s running frequently on local TV.
What she doesn’t say is why those young South Bay couples would have their home search materially changed by a plan to build 1,700 homes in a community nearly 50 miles away.
Salas declined an interview request. Her office offered no additional information on why she wouldn’t discuss an issue she elected to appear in favor of on television.
Jeff Powers, a spokesman for Measure B, said Salas was selected because Chula Vista had done an admirable job building housing.
“Mary Salas has been an important advocate for housing opportunities for our region. Chula Vista has fought for 30 years to have a balance of housing and jobs,” Powers wrote in a statement.
On the Trail
• The Valley Center Roadrunner found an interesting story on Measure A this week. In the rural parts of the county, it’s common to see “Fire Chiefs Say Yes on A” signs. Valley Center Fire Chief Joe Napier, though, says the San Diego Fire Chiefs Association voted to officially stay neutral on the measure. The measure’s official endorsement list includes San Diego City Fire Fighters Local 145 but otherwise doesn’t mention fire chiefs or fire departments.
• In August, Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar, a Republican hoping to unseat incumbent Democrat Dave Roberts in the County Board of Supervisors’ District 3, told San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Logan Jenkins that Trump had “lost her vote” over the summer. Gaspar told KPBS in June that she had voted for her party’s standard bearer.
Last week, as more than a dozen women came forward to say they had been groped or harassed by Trump, Gaspar re-upped her decision to rescind her Trump support. She told KPBS once again she no longer supported him.
• Denise Gitsham, a Republican businesswoman running against Rep. Scott Peters in the 52nd District, has refused to renounce Trump or support him. Under fire from the Peters campaign to clarify who should be the next president, Gitsham told the Union-Tribune that it’s an irrelevant issue.
• Andrew Bowen at KPBS took a deep dive into how Los Angeles put together a transportation ballot measure that’s pretty similar to Measure A but managed to do what that measure couldn’t: win over liberal activists.
• Your ballot came in the mail last week. If you’re just taking a look at the long list of local initiatives, here again is our guide to how they got there, what they’ll do and who supports them.
• Sharon Whitehurst-Payne, interim trustee on the San Diego Unified school board, is running for re-election against LaShae Collins. In the June primary, Collins received nearly 60 percent of the vote. But they’re facing off again because school district elections – unlike other city elections –don’t allow anyone to win outright in a primary. Collins told KPBS reporter Megan Burks she didn’t bother trying to win votes in June since she knew she’d advance anyway. Instead, she turned Crawford High School into her personal project when she visited there and found a school in disrepair.
Whitehurst-Payne said she marshalled support for needed repairs at the school, and got some major projects done.
But the principal for the school disputed that account. All the projects were tied to previously passed bonds and are simply being completed on schedule, Debra Maxie told KPBS.