Did San Diego Democrats just lose the City Council?Politically Aware Thursday, January 21st, 2016
Commentary: Politically Aware
Earlier this month, Democrat Joe LaCava ended his City Council bid. It’s a bigger deal than you may think.
LaCava was running to replace Democrat Sherri Lightner, who is termed out in District 1. Before Lightner, the District was represented by former Councilmember and now U.S. Representative Scott Peters. If that makes District 1 sound a safely Democratic district, it is; but only in November.
Lightner won in November 2012 with 55 percent (31,585) of the vote to Ray Ellis’ 45 percent (25,881). In the June primary, however, Ellis (14,133, 46 percent) bested Lightner (12,889, 42 percent). Lightner’s November win was only possible because two other candidates, Bryan Pease and Dennis Ridz, split the vote just enough to keep Ellis under 50 percent. Had the 5 percent that voted for Ridz, a Republican, gone to Ellis, he would have won in June, giving Republicans a 5-4 majority on City Council.
With LaCava out, it appears Barbara Bry will face Ellis alone. One could argue that LaCava would only have drawn Democratic votes from Bry, but the math isn’t quite that simple. Only 30,987 people voted in the June 2012 primary, which means additional voters can significantly change the percentages. If Ellis gets 51 percent (15,803) of the same 30,987 voters, he beats Bry in June. If LaCava stays in the race, and is the choice of just 620 additional voters, Ellis drops under 50 percent and has to face Bry in the more Democratic friendly November electorate.
Bry could also win in June, but the fundamentals aren’t in her favor. Republican primary voters are among the most reliable, making it unlikely that Ellis will get fewer votes in 2016, particularly if the presidential primary is still undecided. Lightner was an incumbent in 2012, a powerful advantage in San Diego that Bry won’t have. She can only hope that primary voters are more excited about HIllary’s first term than Obama’s second. Or better yet that a second Republican joins the race.
Anthony Wagner, a Democratic fundraiser, told the San Diego Union-Tribune that “Heaven and Earth will be moved to secure a victory in Council District 1.” While that may be true, Democrats could also decide not to put all their eggs in one basket. They could also keep their majority by taking Council District 7, where incumbent Republican Scott Sherman is running for a second term.
Barring a surprise retirement, Democrats will hold Council Districts 4 and 8 through 2018 (and beyond). In 2016, they are defending fairly safe territory in Districts 3 and 9. LaCava’s exit from the District 1 Council race makes it a tougher hold, but Democrats may have an alternate route to keeping their Council majority through District 7. If either race makes it to November, the odds are in the Democrats’ favor.
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