Assemblyman Todd Gloria and San Diego Councilwoman Barbara Bry / Photos by Dustin Michelson and Vito Di Stefano

Tuesday could be the biggest day yet for determining San Diego’s next mayor.

That’s when the local Democratic Party will decide whether to make an early endorsement in the race, which right now includes only Democratic contenders.

Assemblyman Todd Gloria, Councilwoman Barbara Bry and community activist Tasha Williamson are vying for their party’s endorsement. They squared off in a debate last week, and now the party’s central committee will decide if it’s ready to go all in with one of the candidates or let them sort it out among themselves during the primary. They could then revisit an endorsement after March, ahead of the November general election.

The decision looms large, however, because of the special spending allowances afforded to parties in local contests.

The city of San Diego caps donations to citywide candidates at $1,150 per election, but donors can give in much larger amounts to the county party. Once the party endorses a candidate, it can then spend however it wants to communicate with its members – registered Democratic voters.

In a race between three Democrats, unlocking unlimited contact with registered Democrats could be invaluable.

For Bry and Williamson, the goal is not to win the endorsement for themselves, but to block Gloria from securing it. In that scenario, the party would rate each of the candidates as acceptable, but hold off on endorsing only one of them until after the primary.

The bar for an endorsement is high. A candidate needs votes from 60 percent of the participating members of party’s central committee, composed of elected members from each Assembly district in the county and other county leaders and elected officials.

The news of the week: The party endorsement took on a new wrinkle this week after Bry last week scandalized the fact that Gloria had a 2020 campaign open for his state Assembly seat.

Having committees open for multiple seats is neither illegal nor uncommon, despite Bry’s attack.

But Gloria opened himself up to scrutiny because he failed to file a Form 501 for the Assembly, which declares his intent to run, before raising money for and spending it from the 2020 Assembly account.

Gloria filed the form after the critique, and reported his error to the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission. He could be subject to a fine of up to $5,000 for the mistake.

Hovering over all of this, though, is the continuation of a recurring squabble between Democratic candidates facing off in primary battles.

Gloria’s campaign has said the Assembly committee is there because he is expected to raise money and re-direct it to other candidates, as part of his job as the Assembly’s majority whip, a job he’ll hold through November 2020.

But he would technically be allowed to donate money from that account to the local Democratic Party – and assuming he gets the endorsement, the party could turn around and spend it on his behalf.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez ahead of the 2018 primary donated roughly $370,000 to the party, which spent nearly $1 million supporting County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher in his bid , as inewsource reported at the time. That was all perfectly legal, but generated a lot of attention due to the large numbers involved.

There’s also already been some consternation over the possibility that something similar could happen in the District 3 county supervisor race, where three Democrats are squaring off for the chance to unseat Supervisor Kristin Gaspar.

Next up for the Dems: Mayor is the only contested race the Dems are set to weigh in on this month. In September, though, they’re expected to decide on the County Board of Supervisors District 2 and District 3 seats, as well as the City Council’s open District 7 seat. In October they’ll dive into the District 1, District 3 and District 5 seats.

Speaking of District 3 (and other recent endorsements): Chris Olsen, a staffer for the city’s independent budget analyst, won the endorsement of pro-development YIMBY Democrats of San Diego County, an increasingly influential Democratic club. That District 3 race is wide open; Stephen Whitburn, the former director of San Diego Pride, previously won the endorsement of the Democrats for Equality, which remains the party’s most influential club. And the Democrats for Equality this week endorsed Raul Campillo, a deputy city attorney, who is staking a claim as the District 7 front-runner after raising the most money in the first six months of the year. Campillo received 85 votes from club members, while anti-gun activist Wendy Wheatcroft got 35 votes to finish second.

Republican (or right-leaning independent) mayoral-race watch: There’s still no word on whether independent Councilman Mark Kersey, who was a Republican until earlier this year, or Republican Councilman Scott Sherman, will run for mayor against the three Democrats in the field. You may recall that the city of San Diego was been run by a Republican as recently as right now, today, at this very moment. There are now 199 days until the 2020 primary.

Another New Swing Seat?

State Sen. Pat Bates.

It was not long ago that North County congressional, Assembly and state Senate seats were safe territory for Republicans.

In 2016, it was genuinely shocking when Doug Applegate nearly defeated former Rep. Darrell Issa in the 49th Congressional District, which covers northern San Diego County and southern Orange County. Two years later, Democratic Rep. Mike Levin won the seat in a romp, and Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner-Horvath not only won the overlapping 76th Assembly District, she did so against a Democrat after a Republican failed to make it through the primary.

Given that shifting dynamic, its now fair to wonder whether Republicans can hang on to the 36th Senate District, which closely mirrors the boundaries of the 49th Congressional District.

State Sen. Pat Bates is termed out in 2022. Once it’s an open seat, Democrats could again hope to expand their control of areas where they didn’t used to compete.

Some possible contenders: It’ll be worth watching some Democratic officials in the coastal North County area, to see if they want to take a run at the open seat in three years. That could include Carlsbad Councilwomen Cori Schumacher and Priya Bhat-Patel, Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear (who didn’t show much interest in running for county supervisor this cycle, but who knows what the future holds) and Oceanside Councilwoman Esther Sanchez (who quietly bowed out of a campaign for supervisor in 2018).

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

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