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How San Diego Elected a 'Birther' Judge

Since a lawyer named Gary Kreep was elected judge, some have speculated his last name sealed the deal with voters. But election results show precincts didn’t randomly support him.

 

One of the most intriguing results from the June 5 election involved two candidates for San Diego Superior Court judge: Gary Kreep and Garland Peed.

Kreep, a constitutional law attorney and head of a nonprofit legal foundation, narrowly defeated Peed, a 27-year county prosecutor. The countywide result came down to less than 2,000 votes.

Judicial elections typically receive little public attention, but Kreep’s victory attracted national scrutiny because he is prominent advocate for the “birther movement,” which claims President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. Kreep has participated in commercials questioning Obama’s eligibility for office.

The two candidates’ last names have also drawn a fair amount of snickering and mockery. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, for example, struggled to discuss the election on her June 7 show while trying to retain her composure. Still laughing, she wiped tears from her eyes at the end of the segment.

Together, these factors have fed speculation that the roughly 400,000 people who voted in the election were ill-informed and randomly picked candidates based on their names. Had voters been adequately informed about Kreep’s background, the argument went, his opponent would’ve won.

“I doubt that more than a handful had any idea who he was when they marked their ballots,” wrote Andy Cohen for the San Diego Free Press, a progressive news website. “More likely the voters saw his funny name and thought it would be a riot to put a guy named ‘Kreep’ onto the bench.”

In an editorial, the alt-weekly San Diego CityBeat directly chastised county voters for supporting Kreep. It wrote, “Did you really think he was the best man for the job? Or did you choose him because his last name tickled your fancy?”

In an interview with Kreep last week, KPBS’ Joanne Faryon also asked whether the names had played much of a role in the election’s outcome. Kreep called the suggestion ridiculous and rebuked Maddow and Cohen for making it.

“[They] said today my election is the reason people shouldn’t be allowed to vote for judges,” Kreep said. “The liberal elitist establishment believes that the common people are too stupid to make the decisions.”

Instead, Kreep told Ramona Patch last week, his victory should be attributed to his campaign strategy. He purchased a “tremendous amount” of slate mailers from various organizations and robo-calls to voters. (He spent $14,000, CityBeat reported.)

It’s impossible to measure whether the names greatly influenced the election’s outcome without exit polling, but I decided to examine precinct results for any indication of a discernible pattern. The map below shows who won each precinct, according to unofficial results released by county election officials.

The map doesn’t show a random pattern but rather a clear geographic divide between rural and urban parts of the county.

My takeaway? The results undermine the idea that many voters randomly selected the candidates based on their last names. If that factor had been widespread, a very distinct and bizarre difference exists between what urban and more rural voters find funnier.

At first glance, the geographic divide appears to follow a more historic split between conservative and liberal voters, but party affiliation doesn’t appear to be a consistent indicator in this case. (See this U-T San Diego map of party registration for reference.)

Peed, for example, won precincts with some of the highest concentrations of registered Republicans (like Point Loma and Rancho Bernardo) as well as areas dense with registered Democrats (like Hillcrest and North Park).

Kreep’s support also extended beyond rural areas historically won by Republican candidates. Much of the South Bay, where a majority of registered voters are Democrats, backed Kreep for judge.

So what do you think? What might explain the trends above? Please share your insight in the comments section below or email me directly. If you voted June 5, who did you vote for and why?

Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He writes about local government, creates infographics and handles the Fact Check Blog. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668. You can also find him on Twitter (@keegankyle) and Facebook.

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