Saldana the Independent heats up San Diego’s mayoral racePolitically Aware Thursday, March 17th, 2016
Commentary: Politically Aware
I remember former Assemblymember Lori Saldaña’s last run for office. It was the 2012 primary for Congress in CA-52, and she ran as the true progressive from the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. With her grassroots support and the “Bye-Bye Bilbray” singers, she was the Sen. Bernie Sanders of the race, fighting an uphill battle against the moderate business friendly former Council President Scott Peters. As Rep. Peters runs for his third term, it’s easy to forget that Saldaña was 720 votes from making the general election and reportedly even fewer votes from gaining the local party endorsement in the primary.
So I was a bit surprised when Saldaña entered the race for San Diego mayor as an Independent. At least until I realized it was brilliant.
November will be the best time to defeat Faulconer, but that requires keeping him below 50 percent in June. The best way to do that is with multiple candidates representing different constituencies. Saldaña the Democrat might have locked up the left, but would have needed help pulling moderates from Faulconer. Saldaña the Independent was an open invitation for a Democrat to join the race, an invitation former Democratic City Councilmember Ed Harris has already accepted.
How many votes can Saldaña find as an Independent? Most years, not many. This year, who knows? There’s little question that this is the year of the outsider, with businessman Donald Trump closing in on the Republican nomination and Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders giving Clinton a run for her money. National trends don’t usually affect California’s June primary because the nominations have long since been decided. In 2016, the Republican nomination may still be up in the air when Californians vote, and Sanders may have the money to keep campaigning even if the numbers are against him.
Trump is driving record turnout in Republican primaries, but Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a moderate establishment type, isn’t a natural fit for Trump voters. Particularly if Faulconer doesn’t endorse Trump, a move that could hurt him with San Diego moderates; Trump voters could want another option. Some might give an independent Saldaña a look, especially if they don’t dig too deep into her past. Sanders voters who do their homework, on the other hand, will realize Saldaña supports many of their goals. Her early warnings about former Mayor Filner’s treatment of women give her credibility with voters across the ideological spectrum who distrust the establishment and want to “throw the bums out.” They should also help her with women looking for a mayoral candidate while voting for Hillary Clinton.
What Saldaña and Harris really need is a Trump-esque candidate to pull votes from Faulconer’s right. Even then, Faulconer would still be a heavy favorite to keep his job. But Saldaña the Independent has already made this a more interesting race than Saldaña the Democrat ever could have.
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