Independent Lori Saldaña Highest Profile Candidate Looking to ‘Feel the Bern’

California’s groundbreaking nonpartisan open primary system produced numerous independent candidates in its maiden voyage in 2012. But, none survived the double barrel attacks from partisan Republican and Democratic political machines.

That experience may have scared off any serious organizing for independent challenges in 2016. Ironically, the 2016 U.S. Senate race also sees little energy developing behind any of the Republican candidates, leading to the possibility of a Democrat on Democrat fight in November pitting U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez against State Attorney General Kamala Harris.

Former State Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña is waging the highest profile independent campaign in the state. The former Democratic Speaker ProTem of the State Assembly is trying to unseat Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer in a city where independents actually outnumber Republicans.

Despite credentials that include serving in the State Assembly’s second highest leadership position, Saldaña’s campaign has not drawn the kind of special interest attention or financing that she might have if she had not chosen to become an independent two years earlier.

She has pounded on Faulconer for opposing minimum wage increases and the catastrophic collapse of the city’s 911 emergency service program under his watch that despite making national news, has only gotten passing attention from locals.

Saldaña may have also been undermined by the late entry into the race by Democrat and former marine, Ed Harris.

Sanchez’s Senate campaign and Saldaña’s mayoral campaign are both counting on high voter turnout to make a November runoff.

Sanchez’s Senate campaign and Saldaña’s mayoral campaign are both counting on high voter turnout to make a November runoff. But, Saldaña’s challenge is complicated by the City of San Diego’s nonpartisan system that does not identify candidates by party affiliation and by a rule that unlike the statewide system would allow the incumbent mayor to win outright in June by exceeding 50% of total votes cast.

Neither Saldaña nor Harris has raised much money. But, Saldaña has a history of surprising the establishment. She won her first Assembly seat over two higher profile, better financed candidates and gave Scott Peters an unexpectedly close call in a 2012 congressional race, despite being heavily outspent.

Keeping Republican Faulconer from winning outright in June would be a surprise to political insiders. If there is a surprise, it more than likely would have to come from Bernie Sanders’ voters.

Will Sanders voters, who include many independents, vote in the so called “down-ballot” races? Saldaña’s fate likely depends upon it.The city’s current voter registration is 39% Democratic, 26% Republican, and 35% are registered outside both major parties. 

Faulconer, who according to the LA Times is being groomed for a 2018 Republican run for governor, has carefully avoided being branded as a Republican while still holding on to Republican establishment funding.

With statewide rules in place, this would be a battle between Democrat Harris and the former Democrat turned independent Saldaña for the right to face the incumbent in November. But under San Diego’s rules, both candidates are hoping Democrats and independents will vote the entire ballot in sufficient numbers to just keep the Republican mayor below the 51% threshold.

Truth is, what Sanders voters do in San Diego could have as much or more impact in the mayoral race than on the presidential outcome. Like Loretta Sanchez , Lori Saldaña is likely counting on it.

Photo Source: AP