Last month, local media was all atwitter with news that the San Diego Democrats were going into the election with an unprecedented near 20 percent registration advantage in the city of San Diego and a 7 percent advantage countywide. Party leaders rejoiced. The pro-Democratic demographic tide, swelling locally and nationally for the last decade, guaranteed a Big Blue Wave of 2016.

Yet for San Diego – like the nation as a whole – that big blue wave just keeps on refusing to crest.

Commentary - in-story logoRemember when it seemed like the Age of Democrats had finally arrived in 2012? Bob Filner won the mayorship for Democrats for the first time in a generation. Dave Roberts became the first (and only) Democrat on the County Board of Supervisors since the last ice age. Democrats controlled three of five of both the county’s congressional and state Assembly districts and half the county’s state Senate seats.

Everything was looking roses and sunshine for local Democrats, a glow accentuated by Democratic hegemony in Sacramento and the Obama re-election nationally. Republicans were dead politicians walking, destined for the ash heap of history.

Then came the Filner meltdown and the 2013-14 special election where Republicans rallied behind the moderate if somewhat bland Kevin Faulconer while Democrats divided with pragmatists embracing centrist Nathan Fletcher and hardliners going for David Alvarez. The result: The GOP took back the mayorship.

OK, that was a one-off, Democrats could argue. Fallout from a bad political marriage to a flawed mayoral candidate in 2012 and a weak one in 2014. And anyway, the Democrats could unseat Faulconer in 2016 with a strong candidate building on that inexorable demographic wave.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

Then came 2016, and Democrats discovered they had nobody to run against the supposedly vulnerable Faulconer. Possible contender Todd Gloria (who’d been defenestrated as City Council president when fellow Democrat Sherri Lightner teamed up Council Republicans – and still got to call herself a Democrat after that, go figure) decided to go to Sacramento. Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins decided to stay in Sacramento. And the GOP held on to the mayorship.

And then came November. Yes, Democrats held on to their state Assembly and Senate numbers. They even recaptured the city attorney’s office and held on to their 5-4 Council majority. But they failed to add to that majority and they lost their only seat on the Board of Supervisors and they failed to score what would have been a national upset against Rep. Darrell Issa in the 49th Congressional District.

San Diego Democrats now go into the future with no heir apparent to run for mayor nor a strong bench to take over vulnerable Board of Supervisors seats coming up, leaving the big blue wave somewhere out on the indefinite horizon.

San Diego’s GOP may be fighting a delaying action against irrelevance, but they are doing so brilliantly, operating like a well-organized corporate conglomerate. The local party and GOP-leaning organizations like the San Diego County Taxpayers Association are adept at grooming a talented bench of potential candidates (like Chris Cate). They’ve advocated “Boss Politics” for “Papa Politics” as with wealthy developer (and Trump booster) Papa Doug Manchester, successfully rallying party leaders behind Faulconer in 2013. True, the deep pockets of the local GOP – the Lincoln Club and the Regional Chamber of Commerce, spent massively on and lost the campaign against the minimum wage and the Chargers stadium, but by outspending the already scandal-damaged Dave Roberts by almost 2-to-1, they helped grabbed back the county District 3 seat for the GOP.

Meanwhile the Democratic equivalent of the Lincoln Club, Chamber or Taxpayers Association doesn’t even exist. San Diego labor, burned by 2013, seems to have focused on a handful of safer school and college board races this year. They and other local Democrats sat on their wallets in 2016, saving their ammunition for, well, that’s the question, isn’t it? Where was the rush of labor, party or independent progressive money to bolster Roberts or take advantage of Doug Applegate’s surprisingly strong June primary showing against Issa?

Demography is not destiny. It’s not enough to have demographic and even registration trends in your favor. You still need to recruit talent, refine a sellable message and spend the money needed to turn your voters out. Which was something the local Democratic Party simply didn’t do this year.

Carl Luna is a professor of political science at San Diego Mesa College.

    This article relates to: 2016 Elections, Opinion

    Written by Opinion

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    Kenneth Gardner
    Kenneth Gardner

    With all the attempt at analytical detail in your article, you gloss over the one fact about politics in this town... the fact that it is glossed over.  You didn't mention the publicized fact that Faulconer and the potential democratic challenger struck a verbal deal for him not to run, with Faulconer championing the "non-partisan" aspect of his campaigning, in an attempt to "bring everyone together." That's called cronyism at least, if not a full-on political monopoly.  Reporters in this town treat local politics with kid gloves, partly I believe, because it is too baffling for them to understand.

    I ran for mayor on the far right, seeing if I could tap into any of the anger that Donald was so good at.  Nothing doing. But more importantly, I learned that getting on the ballot is nearly impossible. The city gives you a 2 week window to gather 200 valid signatures; and while 200 might not sound like many, the definition of "valid" looms tall once the city registrar takes an axe to your ballot sheets.  So, my question is, how do these other candidates get their signatures so quickly.  There is no electronic system for gathering signatures.  How do they do it?  I will have respect for the local journalism publications when they work to level the playing field, not just run vague articles to make themselves sound intelligent.

    Fotis Tsimboukakis
    Fotis Tsimboukakis subscribermember

    @Kenneth Gardner  1) You buy the voter list from the registrar, 2) You pinpoint the areas with the most like minded AND registered voters and 3) pound the pavements on these streets and collect the signatures yourself (as I did) from the REGISTERED voters. Not only you get signatures but you get to meet and talk to people on issues. Two birds with one shot.

    It takes money, however, to get you name out there, or even on a TV news program. Unless a Party calls for you or you spend $$$ for ads, TV won't put you on. 

    I give great KUDOS to the UT this year for giving everyone the opportunity and coverage to state their positions. 

    Francine Busby
    Francine Busby

    With all due respect, I don't think that Professor Luna was looking at the full picture of the Democratic Party's impact on the local election.  In fact, Doug Applegate beat Issa by a whopping 6% in San Diego County.  Unfortunately he lost by a wide margin in the 25% of the district that lies in Orange County.  Democrats swept all their races in Del Mar, Solana Beach, Encinitas and Imperial Beach where, in addition to San Diego, Chula Vista and National City, Democrats now hold majorities on city councils.  For the first time in decades Democrats picked up seats on city councils in Carlsbad and La Mesa.  In fact, Democrats picked up over 10 seats in November that were formerly held by Republicans.  Democrats also hold all the seats on Palomar, MiraCosta, San Diego and Southwestern Community College Boards as well as majorities in the large San Dieguito, Poway and Sweetwater School Districts.  Over 70% of the 114 the endorsed Democratic candidates won their races.  The tide is indeed rising for Democrats in San Diego County.


    Bob Filner wrecked the Democrat party for years to come.   THANKS BOB!

    bgetzel subscriber

    The Democrats still have a majority on the San Diego City Council and the loss of Roberts' seat on the county Board of supervisors is understandable, given Dave Roberts' scandals. Furthermore, given term limits and their own popularity, Tomi Atkins and Todd Gloria are likely to come back to local politics after their stints in Sacramento. That said, the Democrats have rarely been orgaized at any level of government, probably due to their inherent respect for a range of opinions. Remember the Will Rogers quote; "I do not belong to an organized political party. I am a Democrat." 

    Joe Jones
    Joe Jones subscriber

    @bgetzel  Well said. I'm not sure Dems are unorganized because of their "inherent respect" for anything, but it sounds good. My wife is an "organized" Democrat (she's an event planner plus she's Austrian, so can't help herself.) At a chaotic Party event, running way behind schedule and out of sequence with no one seeming to care, she turned to me and said resignedly: "In the end, we always need Republicans."

    That should be on a T-shirt.

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    @bgetzel Your quote, after watching the last national election, may need to be updated.  The Republican presidential candidate selection process seems more fitting for this old saw.  I'll give you another one that goes back to FDR.  "Tax And Tax, spend and spend".  That was seen as the key to eternal power in the Democratic party, and As far as I can see, still reflects majority sentiment. With taxes at record highs in many places in the U.S., it's a tougher and tougher sell.      

    Desde la Logan
    Desde la Logan subscriber

    In the Latino community the Dems have a strong, progressive bench that won't be realized for a couple election cycles. This cycle we got Georgette Gomez. The first locally elected person to come out of the Zapatista/197/Pete Wilson generation and also the first to come from a social justice organization, EHC. More are on the way. Won't yet help at the county/national level but there are some solid people in the wings itching to not only take on the Republicans but also corporate Dems within the party.