Terra Lawson-Remer and Supervisor Kristin Gaspar / Photo courtesy of Terra Laweson-Remer and photo by Adriana Heldiz

A new Voice of San Diego poll suggests that Republican Supervisor Kristin Gaspar’s re-election campaign has been hurt by her past support of President Donald Trump and trip to the White House.

Forty-two percent of likely voters said they would vote for Democrat Terra Lawson-Remer or were leaning toward her. By contrast, 31 percent of likely voters said the same about Gaspar, with another 27 percent of likely voters undecided.

The Voice Poll, conducted by FM3 Research, surveyed 430 likely voters within District 3 through a mix of online surveys and live-interview calls to both landlines and mobile phones, between Oct. 8 and 22. It has a margin of error of 4.8 percent. It surveyed two political races, the San Diego mayor’s race and the District 3 race for the County Board of Supervisors, as well as residents’ trust in civic leadership, the direction of the region and more. (You can see the full crosstabs here.)

District 3 will determine partisan control of the County Board of Supervisors. The board will either be more conservative than it has been in recent decades or vastly more liberal. All of it depends on this race.

District 3 was historically a Republican district. But voters elected a Democrat as supervisor in 2012. He later flamed out in scandal. Gaspar, a former Encinitas mayor, took the seat in 2016, solidifying its place not as a MAGA stronghold but a suburban swing district in North County and northern San Diego with shifting preferences.

The district includes wealthier coastal communities, like Del Mar and Solana Beach, but also larger immigrant communities in the Mira Mesa neighborhood and the city of Escondido. Although its politics gravitate from Encinitas, District 3 is among the most diverse districts in the county, with sizable pockets of Vietnamese and Latino voters, both of whom favor Democrats. There are also considerable numbers of Chinese voters, who are overwhelmingly independent, and Filipinos, who are almost evenly split.

As of Oct. 1, Democrats had a 10-point advantage in the voter registration roll. On the eve of the 2016 presidential election, Democrats had a mere 1-point advantage. Yet Hillary Clinton won District 3, and the rest of the county, with 57 percent of the vote to Trump’s 37 percent.

The growing gap between the two major parties in District 3 makes Gaspar’s publicized visit to the White House to talk about “the insecurity of our border when it comes to the exploitation of our children” all the more critical in retrospect.

At the time, Gaspar was still unsure about running for re-election in 2020 after her failed bid for Congress in 2018. She said she went to D.C. in 2019 to lobby for more funding for the region to combat illegal drugs and human trafficking. She also told a radio host that members of the public “need to know how the ineffectiveness of our federal government is translating into real security concerns for our local community.”

She never explicitly mentioned the border wall, but that’s what the president heard. Immediately after she finished her remarks, he noted: “This is where I ask the Democrats to come back to Washington and to vote for money for the wall, the barrier — whatever you want to call it is OK with me. They can name it whatever. They can name it ‘Peaches.’”

The year before, she went on Fox News to defend Trump’s use of the word “animals” during a discussion about sanctuary laws and people crossing illegally into the United States. She said he was referring to members of the MS-13 gang. Democrats pounced.

“I know he’s not popular in San Diego,” Gaspar said in May 2019 on the Voice of San Diego podcast. “But whether or not I believe someone’s popular, that’s not my job. My job is to do what’s best for San Diego to produce results for San Diego.”

Lawson-Remer’s campaign and others have portrayed Gaspar as a “Trump Republican,” and there’s evidence it’s an effective message. More people are crossing party lines in her favor: in the Voice Poll, 17 percent of Republicans said they intended to vote for Lawson-Remer while 11 percent of Democrats said they intended to vote for Gaspar.

Lawson-Remer, in other words, has lost the support of a few registered Democrats, but she’s pulling in more registered Republicans. Plus, she has a healthy lead with independents.

D3 is not on the border, but there’s also evidence that it’s influencing the thinking of voters during the pandemic. The poll asked about the border being closed for all non-essential travel, and 57 percent of respondents were opposed to loosening those restrictions at this time. About a third were in favor of reopening the border.

In April, Gaspar sent a letter to the White House, urging officials to institute temperature checks at the border and to send more assistance to help Mexico treat patients in Mexico. The country’s consul general in San Diego interpreted the letter as a way to cast blame on Mexican nationals, as though they were responsible for the spread of the virus and putting hospitals at risk.

Gaspar’s campaign has been in damage control mode on Trump for the last year, portraying her trips and letters as proof that she’ll work with anyone, regardless of party affiliation — whether it’s Trump or California Gov. Gavin Newsom or the Board of Supervisors’ lone Democrat, Nathan Fletcher. She mentioned both of them in her ballot statement.

One mailer notes that she and Fletcher vote in unison the vast majority of the time and it gives special attention to a rent relief proposal the county approved in the early days of the pandemic.

“While Nathan can’t endorse me, I appreciate our partnership,” she said on the mailer, as though they don’t actually dislike each other.

Fletcher has been increasingly critical of Gaspar as the pandemic wears on and the election approaches, but the mailer led to a press conference in which Fletcher tried to set the record straight: He wants her gone.

“I’ve had Democratic voters from the 3rd District send me this and say, ‘I thought you were supporting someone else,’” he said. Elsewhere, he called her dishonest and divisive. In response, Jason Roe, Gaspar’s campaign consultant, said Fletcher was putting partisanship first and behaving “in Trumpian fashion.”

“Supervisor Gaspar will continue to reach out to Nathan to find areas that they can work together to accomplish things that matter for the people they represent and leave the political theatrics to Nathan and his proxy Terra Lawson-Remer,” Roe wrote.

Gaspar has been walking a tight rope for months. She’s urged a faster reopening of businesses in San Diego County, but she hasn’t dominated those discussions. That role is being filled by Republican colleague Jim Desmond, who’s not up for re-election this year, and on at least one key occasion — when Desmond wanted to stop enforcing the state’s restrictions — she rebuked him for what she called his symbolic gesture.

In the meantime, Gaspar often talks about the county’s leadership as though she’s an outsider, not a central figure who’s been in a position of power for four years, and it seems to resonate.

The poll found that voters who think the county is heading in the wrong direction, both on the pandemic and in general, said they’re likely to vote for Gaspar. Voters think who think the county is headed in the right direction said they’re likely to vote for Lawson-Remer.

One minute, Gaspar will defend herself for working with the Trump administration, then insinuate that her opponent is in cahoots with George Soros, a liberal megadonor, to weaken police and put more drug addicts on the streets. Trump, his family and his allies have helped perpetuate conspiracies tinged with anti-Semitic tropes that Soros financed migrant caravans and anti-racism protests.

Maya Srikrishnan contributed to this report.

Jesse Marx is Voice of San Diego's associate editor.

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