The Ultimate Guide to the Local Election

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The Ultimate Guide to the Local Election

Presidential elections have a way of sucking up all the oxygen in any given election, but don’t sleep on what’s happening in your backyard: There are some extraordinary contests and issues playing out here in San Diego.

Illustration by Adriana Heldiz

Presidential elections have a way of sucking up all the oxygen in any given election, but don’t sleep on what’s happening in your backyard: There are some extraordinary contests and issues playing out here in San Diego. Control of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors could flip parties for the first time in a generation. A Democrat will lead San Diego as mayor – but the two candidates running have shared vastly different visions of what the city should look like in the future. Ballot measures address some of the most pressing issues of our time, from building housing to police reform.

Because of the pandemic, it’s the first election in which all registered voters in California are automatically being mailed a mail ballot. And for San Diegans who choose to cast a ballot in person, it will be the first time they’ll do so at consolidated polling places called “superpolls” – there are fewer of them but they’ll be bigger (allowing space for social distancing), and they’ll be open for the four days leading up to Election Day in addition to Election Day itself.

Here, we’ve gathered the most pertinent information about the contests we’ve been following, including the citywide San Diego ballot measures, the races for San Diego City Council, San Diego Unified school board, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors and the two most competitive congressional match-ups.

State Ballot Measures

Image via Shutterstock

There are 12 statewide measures on the November ballot, and many of them might sound pretty familiar. That’s because virtually each one deals with expanding, ending or changing existing measures or are re-dos of measures you recently voted on that failed to pass. For example, Prop. 16 would reinstate affirmative action after an earlier voter initiative banned its use. Prop. 22, the most contested measure on the ballot and one in which apps like Uber and Doordash have pumped hundreds of millions of dollars, would exempt rideshare drivers from a recently enacted state law that limits when employers can classify workers as independent contractors.

In a special San Diego Decides podcast episode, Sara Libby and Jesse Marx run down each item on the ballot, including what it would do, arguments for and against and who’s spending money on both sides. Listen here.

Our friends at CalMatters have also made cool video explainers for each measure.

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Local Ballot Measures

A view of the San Diego skyline / Photo by Sam Hodgson

There are five citywide ballot measures for voters in the city of San Diego, and no countywide measures this time around.

We did a rundown of each measure in the latest episode of the VOSD Podcast, which you can listen to here. If that medium isn’t your thing, we’ve got you covered below.

Measure A

San Diego has long struggled to meet the demand for low-cost housing. To help address the need, affordable housing advocates are pushing Measure A, which would increase property taxes to allow the city to borrow up to $900 million to help fund 7,500 subsidized affordable homes for homeless San Diegans, low-income seniors, workers and other populations in need. Supporters argue the tax hike is needed to supply affordable homes called for in the homelessness plan the city adopted last year and to help address a gap that is expected to grow as eviction moratoriums tied to the pandemic expire. Opponents including former City Councilman Carl DeMaio have said they don’t believe a tax increase for subsidized housing is the right approach to address homelessness. If approved, the property tax hike would start at about $3 for every $100,000 of assessed value and potentially rise to about $21 per $100,000 of assessed value – which translates into about a $19 a year additional tax bill for a home worth $600,000 in the bond’s initial years and up to a $125 hike in later years. The measure requires a two-thirds vote to pass.

Measure B

Amid day and night protests in the region following the death of George Floyd at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, Mayor Kevin Faulconer joined Councilwoman Monica Montgomery to announce SDPD would no longer use the carotid restraint, better known as the chokehold.

There, Voice of San Diego’s Adriana Heldiz asked him about his position on another of Montgomery’s long-sought criminal justice reforms: a full revamp of the commission tasked with overseeing police misconduct.

Her change, championed also by the group San Diegans for Justice – now known as Measure B – had not yet qualified for the ballot, but Faulconer indicated it was going to go before voters, and that he’d encourage them to vote for it.

The measure would replace the existing review board with a new Commission on Police Practices, which would have an independent legal counsel (and therefore would not have to receive legal advice from the city attorney, which also represents SDPD officers), and the subpoena power that would allow it to seek documents or witness testimony to conduct its own investigations into alleged misconduct, rather than relying on SDPD’s internal affairs.

Little formal opposition to the measure has materialized. On both 2016 and 2018, attempts to put a similar reform on the ballot were thwarted by procedural maneuvers and labor negotiations within City Hall. Now, the San Diego Police Officers Association does not oppose the change, after it publicly rebuked the effort when it first came forward in 2019.

Measure C

This ballot measure brings to the surface a dilemma that has been simmering in local school board politics for more than a decade.

On its surface, the measure seems to be a snoozer that deals with nothing more than a technical change to the way school board elections are held. But in fact the measure has huge implications for who has the upper hand in future school board races.

As of right now, there’s a two-step process in school board elections. First, during the primary election, candidates face off in their home districts, which only cover a small part of the city. These are called sub-districts. But then, in the general election, candidates must run citywide. That means it’s not just the voters on their home turf deciding whether they make it to office. It’s the whole city.

This ballot measure would change that. Candidates would run in their sub-district during the primary and the general election. That’s how most elections – from the state Legislature to the City Council to Congress – already work.

Supporters of Measure C have long argued that the citywide general election favors candidates who have big money. (That’s because it costs a lot more to run a citywide campaign.) In most cases, they say, this means the local teachers union gets to decide who wins because it has the funds to boost its preferred candidate. Charter school supporters, however, have also put up big money for school board elections in the past.

In some previous elections, candidates have made it into office, even when they lost, or nearly lost, the vote count on their home turf.

Measure D

This measure would give school board members a way to remove a fellow member from office.

It was written in response to allegations last year by four men who say they were sexually assaulted or harassed by board member Kevin Beiser. Beiser denied the allegations and refused to step down, despite all his fellow board members and other prominent politicians calling on him to resign.

Measure D would create a process for removal. If four out of five board members voted to remove one of their colleagues from office, the decision would then be sent to voters, who would decide the ultimate fate of the board member.

Measure E

San Diego buildings north of downtown and west of I-5 can’t be higher than three stories, a rule voters put in place back in 1972 mostly to protect property views of the ocean.

A citywide measure would lift that restriction in one neighborhood, the Midway District. The area is home to big box stores and industrial businesses bound by the San Diego River and the San Diego International Airport. It’s also where the city recently cut a deal to lease the land around the Sports Arena for redevelopment.

Supporters of the measure, especially those who live in the district, argue they don’t have any ocean views anyway (which is true unless you live on a hilltop) and the height limit restricts opportunities to build more housing. The neighborhood’s 2018 community plan, which lays out the area’s hopes for future development, shows Midway wants to add at least 8,000 new units.

But that’s only possible, they say, if the height limit is removed.
Opposition groups, including the leader of the original 1972 ballot measure, think this is a slippery slope and that altering the height limit in one area could eventually lead to changing it in other areas or removing it altogether, damaging beach neighborhoods’ character.

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San Diego Mayor

Councilwoman Barbara Bry and Assemblyman Todd Gloria on election night March 2020 / Photos by Megan Wood

After decades of Republicans running City Hall – with a brief detour in 2013 – the next mayor of San Diego will be a Democrat. The two candidates vying for the job, though, are taking pains to demonstrate they have little in common.

Assemblyman Todd Gloria locked down support from the establishment left – the Democratic Party, organized labor and the lion’s share of elected officials (including U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, who’s on the top of the ballot as a vice presidential candidate, and all state Assembly Democrats) have endorsed his campaign. He says he intends to make San Diego act like the big city its capable of being, expanding public transportation to make good on city climate pledges and making the city’s homeless crisis his top priority.

Councilwoman Barbara Bry – a tech entrepreneur who founded ProFlowers.com before winning a Council seat in 2016 – was a Democrat in good standing in San Diego during her time in office, until the race took shape. Her campaign has attacked Gloria over recent votes he took in Sacramento on bills passed by the Democratic supermajority and signed by the Democratic governor – like AB 5, which outlined the appropriate use of independent contractors, and SB 145, which gives judges the same discretion over whether to require certain LGBTQ offenders to become registered sex offenders as they already have in dealing with certain straight offenders.

The campaign has largely hinged, though, on housing and homelessness issues. Bry, supported by longtime homeless provider Father Joe Carroll, has criticized Gloria for supporting the so-called housing first approach to homelessness (an approach she previously supported), which calls for getting people off the streets and into housing first, then providing them with necessary services for issues like addiction or mental health. She says she would first focus on “root causes” by providing treatment and services first and not “viewing homelessness as principally a ‘housing problem.’” She has also attacked Gloria’s support from the pro-housing Yes in My Backyard movement, by warning an unnamed “they” are “coming for our homes,” and casting herself as a protector of single-family neighborhoods. Gloria’s campaign has compared the rhetoric to President Donald Trump’s promise to protect the suburbs from low-income housing. And Bry has the strong support of groups opposed to short-term vacation rentals, as she’s pledged to treat them as illegal, while he’s said he’ll focus on regulating them to return some housing back to the market.

The 101 Ash St. debacle has figured heavily in the mayor’s race, too. Gloria was on the Council that unanimously approved the lease-to-own arrangement, and it was initially vetted by a committee he ran. Like the rest of the Council, he failed to identify the disastrous deal it became (or that an appraisal pegged the building’s value below what they paid for it). Bry has said her business background would have led her to sniff out the bad lease – which kept the city from seeking redress when the building turned out to need serious renovations. Gloria has pointed out, though, that Bry was on the Council that greenlit the renovations – and it was the shoddy construction work during those renovations that led to asbestos violations.

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San Diego City Attorney

San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott and Cory Briggs / Photos by Jamie Scott Lytle and Sam Hodgson

The race to act as the city’s chief legal counsel and prosecute misdemeanors pits incumbent Mara Elliott, a long-time deputy city attorney before taking over the top job in 2016, against challenger Cory Briggs, an activist attorney whose lawsuits against the city have influenced local politics for years. Both are Democrats.

Elliott won in 2016 after she was largely overlooked in the primary against four male Democrats perceived as more viable contenders. She ran pledging to be apolitical, and even said that she didn’t think city attorney should be an elected position in the first place.

But she’s been at the center of city politics ever since.

She and state Sen. Ben Hueso pushed to gut the state’s Public Records Act, but backed down in the face of opposition. The disastrous 101 Ash St. deal, in which the city has spent millions on an empty skyscraper and unleashed asbestos in it during botched renovations, was mostly negotiated before her arrival, but she was in charge when the city attorney’s office gave final approval. She similarly presided over the city’s “smart streetlights” fiasco, in which tech toys billed as a way to monitor traffic and air quality became police surveillance tools. The city finally turned them off due to public outcry.

Briggs, her opponent, briefly ran for mayor at the beginning of 2019, before deciding to run for city attorney instead. In his private practice, he has sued public agencies and developers dozens of times, representing a network of mostly anonymous nonprofit groups. In 2014 VOSD found that no lawyer in the state sued under the California Environmental Quality Act more.

“These lawsuits all tend to follow a formula: A local City Council approves a big-box development, like a Wal-Mart,” Liam Dillon wrote. “A nonprofit with a watchdoggy name sues, with Briggs as its attorney. The developer settles the case and pays Briggs for his trouble. It’s often unclear who is against the project other than Briggs himself.”

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San Diego City Council

San Diego City Hall / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

District 1

Councilwoman Barbara Bry decided she would prefer to be mayor and declined to run for re-election in this district that covers La Jolla, Carmel Valley and University City.

And now, for the first time, a Republican is not even an option. Democrats Will Moore and Joe LaCava hope to succeed Bry. Business groups like the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and Building Industry Association have lined up behind the business attorney Moore, even with his strong support for Proposition 15, effectively a property tax increase for large landlords of commercial properties.

LaCava comes from a more classic La Jolla politics background. He’s a civil engineer who consults on home construction projects but he worked his way through the planning organizations and neighborhood activist groups. The San Diego Municipal Employees Association, the largest union of city employees, is spending money to help him. He’s been embraced by the group that would like to abolish vacation rentals in the city: Save Our San Diego Neighborhoods.

We hosted a debate between the two you can watch.

If preserving the neighborhood and fighting vacation rentals is a high priority, LaCava may be your candidate. He is very much a successor to former City Council President Sherri Lightner, who had a folksy protectionist approach to the job. She gave him her “unqualified” support.

LaCava said he lost the teachers union endorsement because he opposed Proposition 15, which has long been a priority for progressives. But he has waffled a bit on that and on whether he would support rent control, which Moore vociferously opposes.

The U-T editorial board endorsed Moore because of his willingness to support new housing and take a more aggressive approach to the crisis of housing affordability. He wants to prioritize permanent housing solutions for homeless residents, which should appeal to those who think housing is the first problem to solve for someone on the street.

Yet some of the most active developers of affordable housing support LaCava, not Moore, despite his emphasis on it. And for those worried about development in neighborhoods, the business support has resonated in a negative way. He may, for example, push to reform historical designation requirements or other obstacles to new housing construction he says can sometimes be abused.

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District 3

Democrats Stephen Whitburn and Toni Duran are vying to represent the city’s urban core in the district that includes downtown, North Park and Old Town. Both say addressing the city’s homelessness and affordable housing crises should be top priorities and pledge to focus on police reforms. Both are also arguing their experience makes them best qualified for the job. Duran, who now works for state Sen. Toni Atkins, touts her experience as a Latina who has personally grappled with housing insecurity and the community work she has done on Atkins’ staff. Whitburn, development director for the American Cancer Society in Southern California, argues his nonprofit management experience, past work as a radio host and service on community boards such as the city’s medical marijuana task force make him the best candidate.

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District 5

San Diego’s City Council District 5 has long been the most conservative district in the city.

But now, there are more registered Democrats than Republicans in the district that compromises the suburban neighborhoods of Scripps Ranch, Rancho Bernardo and Rancho Peñasquitos. And the race for City Council is more heated and well-funded on both sides than it has ever been.

Donors and independent spenders are pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race between two lawyers: Republican Joe Leventhal and Democrat Marni Von Wilpert.

Leventhal runs the local office of the national law firm Dinsmore. Von Wilpert is a deputy city attorney. We ran a debate between the two you can watch.

Leventhal has said he wants to see a tougher approach to solving homelessness: “We can’t only have the carrots. We also need to have the sticks.” He said he doesn’t want to put homeless people with minor violations of the law in prison but he wants law enforcement to have the tools to make them choose to address addiction issues or face tougher punishments.

He is against both Measure A, a property tax increase to fund affordable housing units, and Proposition 15, which would allow large commercial properties to be taxed at their market value.

Leventhal’s rival has painted him as recklessly pushing to unsafely open schools and took umbrage at him insinuating he would represent the district better because he has kids and she does not. He has been unwilling to indicate whether he supports or opposes President Donald Trump, though independent spenders in the race insist he has opposed Trump from the beginning.

Progressives believe Von Wilpert will help build a dominant majority on the City Council to address the affordable housing crisis, advocate for transit improvements and pursue police reform. She has been on the forefront of major cases the city attorney undertook, including a high-profile challenge to the company Instacart, which the city accuses of misclassifying its workers as independent contractors instead of employees. She secured favorable rulings in that case, but it’s been kicked up to a court of appeal.

She supports Measure A, the property tax increase for affordable housing, but said she has not yet decided whether to support Proposition 15.

Wilpert grew up in the area but only moved back to San Diego and her former neighborhood in December 2017 to take the job at the city attorney’s office after law school and a stint in the Peace Corps. She also served as an attorney at the National Labor Relations Board in D.C. “I moved home knowing that I was going to run for office and I specifically chose to work in city government,” she told us. The move, though, also opened her up to attacks that she is out of touch with the district.

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District 7

One of two Democrat-versus-Republican elections in the city, District 7’s Council race could tell us just what kind of short-term future conservatives have in local government.

The district covers the area surrounding the I-8 corridor, from Linda Vista and Mission Valley to Grantville and Tierra Santa. Running to represent it are deputy city attorney Raul Campillo, a Democrat, and Noli Zosa, a Republican small busines owner.

Eight years ago, Republican Scott Sherman won the district outright in the June primary. Four years later, he did the same. That means we have never actually seen how District 7 voters behave in a Council race during the elevated turnout scenario brought on by a presidential election. That will change this time around.

Campillo emerged from a crowded field of Democrats in the primary, and has managed to bring in a lot of campaign money. Zosa, a partner in the Dirty Birds restaurant group, has also managed to put together a financially viable campaign. The 38,000 registered Democrats in the district outnumber Republicans by about 14,000, but nearly a third of registered voters there aren’t part of either party.

Zosa has served on a handful of boards and commissions in the city, including on the community planning group for Linda Vista and on a city mobility board that handles parking and bike-related issues. Campillo taught with Teach for America before becoming an attorney.

Zosa has been criticized for comments he made early in the COVID-19 pandemic, arguing that the media sensationalized the pandemic because it was good for ratings, but has since apologized for those comments and said it was a hard time for him due to business struggles and his father’s death. He has nonetheless said the city shouldn’t expand business relief programs, and should instead ease restrictions that keep businesses from fully operating.

Campillo penned a U-T op-ed this summer against slashing funding for SDPD. He told KPBS he supports allowing duplexes on any single-family lot in the city to expand the supply of housing, which Zosa opposes.

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District 9

There are two names on the ballot, but only one of the candidates is still officially running. That’s Sean Elo, a former grassroots organizer and community college district trustee. Council President Georgette Gómez’s would-be successor, Kelvin Barrios, was seen as the favorite in this race until news broke in August that the district attorney’s office was investigating him for possible embezzlement. Reports by VOSD and the Union-Tribune have also highlighted possible ethics violations for failing to disclose income. Barrios suspended his campaign in September and pulled his Facebook ads, but said he might still serve if elected.

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San Diego Unified School Board

A classroom inside Hoover High / Photo by Dustin Michelson

San Diego residents vote in all three school board races. The candidates have all been to at least some degree supportive of the district’s cautious approach to reopening.  Five of the six candidates discussed their views at a Politifest forum in September with Voice of San Diego.

District A

This district covers Clairemont and University City. It is the only seat where an incumbent is not running for re-election.

Sabrina Bazzo, is a health educator who has a long history of volunteering within the school district. She was endorsed by the local teachers union. During the pandemic, Bazzo helped start a tutoring network where students help other students. She supports the district’s approach to reopening. And she said the district should find creative ways to reach students, as with her tutoring network.

Crystal Trull is a nonprofit consultant who has tried to frame herself as a candidate who would disrupt the status quo. Trull has said more young children should be back in school and that the district should be doing more to hold classes outside. But she has also said the district should be cautious about reopening and not rush into it. Her main priority as a candidate is to force the district to communicate better and listen more to parents.

District D

Richard Barrera, a labor organizer by trade, has served on the school board for the last 12 years. He is supported by the teachers union. Barrera is the most visible of the five-member board, often functioning as a de facto spokesman for the district. He has helped usher in big reforms like increasing graduation requirements across the entire district. In 2010, he was one of the architects for Vision 2020, which promised a quality school in every neighborhood. The results of Vision 2020 have been mixed. While there was progress in some areas, certain schools in historically underserved communities have continued to struggle under his watch.

Camille Harris, a professor at Point Loma Nazarene University, has said she does not believe the district is doing a good enough job supporting students. While she supports the district’s cautious approach to reopening, she and Barrera disagree on several key policies. Harris, for instance, supports merit pay for teachers. She is also a big charter school supporter. She has said parents deserve to have a choice about where to send their kids to school and that competition between traditional public schools and charters is a good thing.

District E

LaWana Richmond, an administrator at UC San Diego, focuses on organizational development in her job. She believes the pandemic has created opportunities for lasting change and hopes that San Diego Unified can use it as an opportunity to improve systems that have long needed changing. “My greatest hope is that we go beyond just trying to get back to where we were before and rather focus on moving forward towards what we can be,” she writes on her website. Richmond was partially moved to run for school board when she watched the district’s handling of problems at Porter Elementary School in her district. She has been endorsed by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber and Councilwoman Monica Montgomery.

Sharon Whitehurst-Payne, a former classroom teacher and adjunct faculty member at San Diego State, was appointed to the District E seat in 2016, after it was vacated by a disgraced board member. Months later, Whitehurst-Payne went on to win a hotly contested election. Whitehurst-Payne is endorsed by the teachers union. At times, she has placed the only dissenting vote on a five-member board that tends to work together in lockstep. Whitehurst-Payne, for instance, voted against the contract extension of Superintendent Cindy Marten, noting a lack of progress at Lincoln High School.

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San Diego County Board of Supervisors

The San Diego County Administration Center / Photo by Sam Hodgson

District 1

San Diego’s South Bay community will have a new representative on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors for the first time in decades.

District 1, which Chula Vista, Coronado, Imperial Beach, National City and communities within the city of San Diego and unincorporated county, like Barrio Logan and Bonita, has been represented by Supervisor Greg Cox for more than two decades, but he’s now being forced out by term limits.

Nora Vargas, a Southwestern Community College trustee and former Planned Parenthood executive, and state Sen. Ben Hueso are vying to replace him.

Although the candidates are both Democrats and Latinos, they differ on many issues like housing, how the county can improve the social services it provides and the county’s role in addressing the cross-border sewage issue.

Both have made clear, though, that one of their first priorities if elected would be to help South Bay, which was hit harder than any region by the COVID-19 pandemic, recover from the crisis.

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District 2

Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who’s served this East County district for a generation, is stepping down because of term limits. She’s endorsed Steve Vaus as her successor. The cowboy hat-wearing mayor of Poway is facing off against former state Sen. Joel Anderson.

Both are Republicans and agree on some of the biggest policy matters in front of the county. Both, for instance, have said the county needs to release more data on COVID-19 outbreaks but that the county deserves more local control over when and how to reopen. Both have expressed support for continuing to build up the county’s reserves, both have warned against housing development bans in wildfire zones and both are opposed to raising taxes to fund new investments in public transit.

Instead, they tend to emphasize different things. Vaus has said he’d like to streamline the home-construction process to shorten costly delays. He’s highlighted a small business loan program in his city as another program worth pursuing regionwide. Anderson said the county should increase funding for law enforcement and the teams that respond to mental health crises.

One point of disagreement came during a forum in early October. The county recently withdrew a plan to purchase a La Mesa hotel to house the homeless, and Vaus called it a missed opportunity. Anderson said he doesn’t think housing people in hotels is the answer to homelessness.

Of the two candidates, Vaus has more institutional support but Anderson is endorsed by the San Diego County Republican Party.

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District 3

The outcome of this race will determine the partisan makeup of the Board of Supervisors, which oversees billions of dollars of funding regionally and appoints representatives to the region’s principal planning agency.

Republican Kristin Gaspar is running for re-election in a district that includes Del Mar, Solana Beach, Encinitas, Escondido and parts of northern San Diego. She’s a former Encinitas mayor who works as a chief financial officer at her family’s physical therapy business. And she’s running against Terra Lawson-Remer, an economist and former Treasury Department adviser during the Obama administration.

The two have largely distinguished themselves by way of housing and transit policy. Gaspar has been among the most high-profile opponents of the San Diego Association of Governments’ plan to revolutionize public transit so that it’s competitive with driving.

Lawson-Remer has said she would spend more of the county’s reserves on critical issues, such as homelessness, set a gold standard for climate action plans, put a leash on backcountry development and legalize sales of cannabis.

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50th Congressional District

Congressional candidates Ammar Campa-Najjar and Darrell Issa / Photos by Adriana Heldiz and Megan Wood

Rep. Duncan Hunter’s resignation in January — after pleading guilty to conspiracy to misuse campaign funds — opened the floodgates for Republicans. Out of the abyss of the primary came Darrell Issa, who served for nine terms in Congress in the neighboring 49th Congressional District. He stepped down in 2018 and was set to lead the U.S. Trade and Development Agency until the Senate effectively denied his nomination.

Issa’s campaign this time around for the 50th Congressional District, which spans from Jamul to Temecula, has run a law-and-order campaign focused on gangs and vandalism to make sure “laws fit the ability to punish criminals,” he told KUSI.

His Democratic opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, a former White House fellow, also ran for the same seat in 2018 and nearly defeated Hunter at the time. Since then, he’s softened some of his more progressive positions and told the Union-Tribune editorial board that, if elected, he’d be San Diego’s “most conservative congressman.”

The two have distinguished themselves (slightly) on health care. Issa is opposed to the Affordable Care Act. Campa-Najjar is not a fan of a single-paying system and called instead for letting people buy into Medicare early. They’ve also disagreed on federal relief. Campa-Najjar said the federal government should provide more Paycheck Protection Program loans. Issa, once the wealthiest member of Congress, said “paying people not to work has run its course.”

It is traditionally a heavily Republican district but one poll in September put the candidates in a statistical tie.

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53rd Congressional District

From left: Sara Jacobs and Georgette Gómez participate in a debate for the 53rd Congressional District race. / Photos by Megan Wood

Rep. Susan Davis announced last year her plans to retire at the end of her current term, ending a 20-year reign after flipping the then-49th District seat from Republican to Democrat. The 53rd spans Mission Hills, North Park and Normal Heights, plus some swaths of East County and the South Bay. It’s a solidly Democratic district, which is how it ended up with two Democrats vying to replace Davis.

San Diego City Council President Georgette Gómez is facing off against nonprofit executive Sara Jacobs, the granddaughter of Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs.

Both progressive Democrats, the two hold nuanced political views, as they demonstrated in a Voice of San Diego debate. So the campaign has centered more on the candidates’ backgrounds and life experiences than their policy positions.

Gómez has racked up some high-profile endorsements, including from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, while the Jacobs family has thrown millions at her campaign, and Jacobs recently won the endorsement of the San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board.

The Gómez campaign has been dealt blows in the form of the candidate’s ties to former employee Kelvin Barrios, who was running to succeed her in Council District 9 and is the subject of a criminal investigation by the district attorney’s office. (Barrios recently suspended his campaign.) And after throwing shade at Jacobs for failing to quickly release her tax returns, Gómez failed to report her own Council salary in error-riddled filings.

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Correction: The original version of this piece mis-identified U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris. We regret the error. 

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