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Instead of pivoting to the center and working to win over voters who had chosen Nathan Fletcher, David Alvarez went to the left. His campaign made a decision that this was a Democratic town.
With the clarity of hindsight, it is easy to see David Alvarez lost the election for mayor a month ago, if not earlier.
In November, when he managed to best Nathan Fletcher for second place in the primary, Alvarez entered the runoff with a decided disadvantage. His allies embraced the underdog feeling.
But the runoff was coming just three months later. And the campaign mostly took December off. Yes, obviously work was being done. Organization-building, neighborhood-walking (in total, our house was visited eight times) and other efforts were under way.
For the most part, however, the campaigns hibernated through the holidays. There was no advertising, no press conferences, no big announcements.
And so, Alvarez’s disadvantage carried over into January. Unfortunately for him, in early January, ballots started arriving in voters’ mailboxes.
When the mail-in votes were counted and the totals published at 8 p.m. Tuesday night, Faulconer had a 13-point lead. Alvarez may have lost the election before he even really started running in it.
Even if he had a chance, though, when he finally ramped up his campaign, he took a curious turn.
Instead of pivoting to the center and working to win over voters who had chosen Fletcher, Alvarez went to the left. His campaign made a decision that this was a Democratic town. The win would come not from poaching other voters. It would come by getting Democrats to the polls.
It was not Alvarez who had a press conference with former Fletcher supporters, it was the Republican, Kevin Faulconer. It wasn’t Alvarez who touted support from people in the other party, it was Faulconer.
The Alvarez campaign held forth on issues like bicycle infrastructure, assault weapons bans, public transit, gender equality and solar power.
For people who prioritize these issues, this was wonderful. But it’s hard to imagine Alvarez hadn’t already won them over. His only outreach to the business community was a notice that he had formed a business advisory group.
In fact, Alvarez supporters’ main argument against Faulconer was that Faulconer did not support major progressive priorities, like a substantial increase to the minimum wage. Again, that’s an attack that resonates with progressives.
Perhaps not so much with more moderate voters.
Unions financed most of these attacks, dumping more than $4 million into the race.
That investment now looks like a colossal miscalculation, unless it has a long-term benefit in capacity-building and a return that I can’t understand right now.
Mickey Kasparian, the leader of the largest union in San Diego, the United Food and Commercial Workers, and the president of the board of the Labor Council, did not have any regrets.
“I wouldn’t do anything different,” Kasparian told NBC 7 San Diego late Tuesday.
While Alvarez went left, Faulconer did everything he could to highlight how he was much more than just a Republican. He touted endorsements from Democrats. His supporters held signs that said “Democrats for Faulconer.”
Compare the official Alvarez ballot statement mailed to voters with Faulconer’s. The Republican stressed over and over how nonpartisan he was. Alvarez stressed how progressive he was.
On the surface, it seemed to be working. Polls showed the race tightening. The Democrats mobilized in a way I have never seen. Resources were brought in. Democratic stars from across the country came to rally volunteers. Even the president signed off on an endorsement message.
But again, Alvarez likely had already lost.
Despite their disappointment today, it’s not all bad for Democrats in San Diego. Quite the opposite. This is a city with a decided Democratic advantage. Faulconer won, in part, by showing how acceptable he was to Democrats. He rejects many of the most divisive social stances around which the national Republican Party sometimes rallies.
Faulconer won’t be able to govern with a conservative reform agenda. Faulconer will mostly serve as a bulwark, either stopping progressive policies emerging from a City Council with a super-majority of Democrats that might last past this year or making them more palatable to the business coalition that loves him.
Faulconer will do what he does best: get along with people. The city will cruise like it did through the Sanders era.
Progressives will not get the wish list interim mayor Todd Gloria laid out recently. But Gloria and Faulconer, who like each other fine, will now negotiate for a few years.
And that’s apparently just fine with voters.