Kevin Faulconer Rebrands San Diego’s GOP

Author: Jeff Powers
Created: 14 May, 2016
Updated: 21 November, 2022
3 min read

For the past eight years, President Barack Obama has been the target of unrelenting and vulgar attacks from the right - questioning everything from his office eligibility to his intellect related to the color of his skin. The rhetoric though has had an unintended effect; the GOP brand from New York to San Diego is toxic.

Republican registration is in huge decline. Indeed registered Republicans in the state of California are now below 28%. Two years ago, No Party Preference voters were 8 percentage points behind Republican registrants, today they stand less than 4 points behind.

So with this backdrop, how is it possible for a Republican mayor, indeed the ONLY Republican mayor in a top-10 city in the United States, to consider a run for governor in the most progressive, liberal state in the country?

Simple, be the most progressive, moderate Republican in the U.S.  

California Democrats don’t take Republican San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s gubernatorial ambitions as seriously as they probably should. Faulconer is driving the GOP brand to the left lane in San Diego by pursuing left of center positions on climate change, denouncing the rhetoric of Donald Trump, distancing San Diego from the “Sanctuary City” conversation, and consistently promoting a pro-choice and gay rights agenda.

It’s a dual purpose strategy; by so doing, Faulconer also makes himself a marketable gubernatorial candidate in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Indeed, Faulconer believes his think-left-first strategy will become a roadmap for Republicans in other states. The RNC also believes Faulconer might be onto something, giving him an opportunity to speak at its winter meeting this year.

But Faulconer still has considerable work to do in America’s Finest City, where he’s running for re-election against Democrat Ed Harris, a Marine and former city councilmember, and independent candidate Lori Saldaña. Harris has focused his campaign on public safety concerns, while Saldaña showcases her political chops as the former Speaker Pro Tem of the State Assembly.

It could be an interesting test for Faulconer, as the media has raised credible issues about his leadership style, a style highlighted by a hands-off approach to hot-button community issues. It’s been a long-term and so far effective strategy that the Republican has employed for the decade-plus he’s served in public office in San Diego.

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Indeed, he’s taken heat for steering clear of the San Diego Chargers stadium initiative, funding a “controversial solution” to the growing homeless population, and not adequately responding to a burgeoning 911 crisis, where the community's public safety is at real risk.

But neither the Harris nor Saldaña campaigns have been able to raise the required capital to seriously challenge the incumbent. In fact, Faulconer has raised more than 10 times that of his competitors, and is beginning to get an influx of state cash into his campaign.

San Diego’s election system is unique where if a candidate receives 50% plus one of the vote, that candidate wins and the top two candidates do not advance to a November runoff. The race is over in the primary. The election rule fundamentally favors the incumbent who has higher name recognition than challengers do.

Community activists are discussing efforts to remove the "50% plus one" rule which would give more voters a say in city elections, where turnout often doubles from primary to general elections.

In the case of Faulconer, the "50% plus one" rule could save his campaign from “wasting” hundreds of thousands of dollars on a November general election.  

One thing is clear, the GOP brand is getting a huge makeover in San Diego. Whether Faulconer’s strategy translates to success on a statewide or national level remains to be seen.

Photo Source:John Gastaldo / San Diego U-T

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