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What Does Nathan Fletcher’s switch mean?

Early this morning, Assemblymember and mayoral candidate Nathan Fletcher announced he was switching teams. No, not that way. He’s leaving the Republican Party to become an independent.

What does this mean for the mayor’s race? In the long run, not much.

Fletcher will dominate the news cycle, and may raise his name recognition. The Republican Party will cry crocodile tears for the cameras and say goodbye, then go to their smoke-filled room to say good riddance. Tom Fudge, the moderator for tonight’s mayoral forum at the San Diego LGBT Center will have to change his question list.  But the underlying dynamics of the race haven’t really changed.

Independent candidates garner votes from independent voters (called Decline to State in California), voters who are fed up with partisanship, and voters who don’t like their party’s nominee. These are the votes for which Fletcher was already battling District Attorney Dumanis; the hard right and left are already locked down by Councilmember DeMaio and Representative Filner, respectively.

Fletcher’s timing also decreases the impact. Had he dropped his party affiliation earlier, particularly before the Republican Party endorsed DeMaio, it could have been seen as a strong move by a true non-partisan. Coming after his loss in a nasty endorsement battle, it reeks of sour grapes.

More likely, Fletcher is positioning for a future run. San Diego has a strong political middle, as seen in mayoral polls where 40-50% of voters consistently want something between DeMaio’s machete for cutting red tape and Filner’s public solutions. A similar dynamic is evident in the CA-52 Congressional race, where a number of self-labeled moderate and independent candidates are fighting for the expanse of ideological turf between Rep. Bilbray and former Assemblymember Saldana.

What does the future hold for Fletcher the Independent? Assuming that he and Dumanis both stay in the mayor’s race, it’s hard to see either make the general; however, this could be the first step toward leaving the race, an olive branch to moderate Republicans, including Dumanis, who could help him in a future election. Which one? Should State Senator Juan Vargas replace Rep. Filner in the new CA-51, the Democratic musical chairs could create a special election in a district unfriendly to conservative Republicans, but more open to an Independent.  In 2014, DeMaio ally and District 6 Councilmember Lori Zapf could provide enticing target, with the supporters of former Councilmember Donna Frye forming the base for an Independent run. (No, he can’t actually live in all these places, but redistricting has taught us that geography is at a best a short term barrier to candidacy.)

The most intriguing question is whether Fletcher will try to win an election or build a movement. He has shown himself to be a prodigious fundraiser with a Clintonesque ability to connect to voters. He can build coalitions, as seen by his LGBT support in a race against two members of our community.  If he flies solo, any race he enters will be an exciting show. If Fletcher is building a team to take over San Diego’s moderate middle, the effects on local politics could be profound.

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Posted by on Mar 28, 2012. Filed under Breaking News, Top Highlights. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

2 Comments for “What Does Nathan Fletcher’s switch mean?”

  1. I have to argue with the assertion that this reeks of sour grapes. He was denied the republican endorsement because he wasn’t conservative enough. Not conservative enough because he went to bat for LGBT rights. He sees the craziness in the republican party and the hypocrisy of a party that will endorse a gay candidate but not a candidate who advocates for gay rights. Or the hypocrisy of that party’s candidate. I agree that he’s the best bet for the very large political middle.

  2. Well said JF. They were forcing a dirty game and he got sick of it. Good on him.

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