Kevin Faulconer recaptured the mayor’s office in San Diego for Republicans in a special election yesterday. The polls were skin-tight leading into yesterday’s election, and unions poured in millions to keep control in the nation’s eighth-largest city.
But in the end the vaunted Obama election model — flood the zone with negative attack ads and excite the base of the Democratic party — flopped. Faulconer defeated fellow City Council member David Alvarez by nine points in a city that Barack Obama carried by 63 percent to 37 percent only 15 months ago.
Democrats were stunned at the margin. In the November open primary, Democrats had won 54 percent of the ballots cast and were convinced they could win the runoff between Faulconer and Alvarez. Unions pitched in a record $4.2 million to promote Alvarez, compared to only $1.7 million from business interests backing Faulconer. In the end, Alvarez outspent Faulconer in total by a million dollars.
Partly the Faulconer blowout was the result of the lower turnout of a special election called to replace disgraced Democratic Mayor Bob Filner. But partly it came from a renewed ability of Republicans to reach out to independent and moderate voters with the need to practice fiscal restraint and sound management. “It’s been less than a decade since public-employee unions drove San Diego into near-insolvency, and people were reminded of that,” says Jason Roe, a political consultant in San Diego.
Certainly there was a clear contrast between the candidates. Alvarez was touted as the great progressive hope who in the words of the San Diego Union Tribune “supports raising the minimum wage, increasing developer fees for affordable housing projects and asking voters to approve the sale of bonds to fund infrastructure projects.” Faulconer was opposed to all of the above and also supported “putting certain city services up for competitive bid with the private sector [and] replacing pensions with 401(k)-style plans for most new city hires.”
Faulconer’s win breaths new life into what has been a moribund Republican party in California and also shows that the Obama turnout machine isn’t invincible without a presidential-level turnout. That’s a valuable lesson as we head into the 2014 midterm elections.