In San Diego Blue Wave, GOP and Independents May Not Ride
When it comes to the race for San Diego mayor, the local GOP has made its decision: “LEAVE IT BLANK – BOTH are terrible.” In a contest pitting two Democrats – Barbara Bry and Todd Gloria – against each other, the Republican Party of San Diego County isn’t taking sides. In other races where the only candidates are Democrats, it is telling party members, “No Endorsement.”
Whether non-Democrats and third-party voters will follow that advice come Nov. 3, or instead become the deciding factor is the big question.
Opinions vary among San Diego political observers and party leaders.
Carl Luna, a political science teacher at San Diego Mesa College and the University of San Diego, says non-Democrats might very well impact the outcome of the mayoral race. “Voters like to say they like third-party candidates but when Election Day comes, they often choose Coke or Pepsi.”
When it comes to polling, the numbers released by Gloria’s campaign in August show the two-term state assemblyman with a 15-point lead over challenger Bry. But when it comes to bank accounts, Bry reports raising $532,000 during the past six months, almost double the $289,000 Gloria received in contributions, according to the July campaign filings.
Gloria, a longtime elected official, has received broad support from labor unions and progressive groups, while businesswoman Bry has gained the support of more moderate and independent leaders.
Luna believes one city council race stands out — District 9, which includes City Heights, Rolando and the College Area. Laborers’ International Union, Local 89 policy and community engagement director Kelvin Barrios is running against San Diego Community College District Trustee Sean Elo-Rivera. Luna said both candidates are well-known in their communities, have established allies and non-Democrat voters may ultimately decide who wins.
Yet, in the council races for District 1, which encompasses the La Jolla and Torrey Pines area, District 3, representing areas including downtown, Hillcrest and downtown, and for City Attorney, Luna thinks non-Democrats might skip those ballot options altogether.
“You’ll probably see a depressed voter outcome in those races because voters can’t tell the difference between the candidates,” he said.
Stephen Goggin, a political science professor at San Diego State University, agrees, saying the municipal races might see undervoting, where voters make no selection for specific candidates or issues.
“People are going to have a hard time deciphering which Democrat is more appealing,” Goggin said. “Most voters don’t know much about the local races so if you’re not a Democrat, you’ll likely just skip over those races on the ballot.”
As an example, Goggin cited a 2019 study conducted by Indiana University instructor Colin Fisk and published in the quarterly journal of the American Political Science Association that examined the 2016 U.S. Senate race between Democrats Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez.
Fisk’s study found that 10% of California voters undervoted in the Senate race, compared to less than 3% in previous contests with candidates from both parties, concluding that “party labels male it so candidates appear as distinct choices to the voters.”
Calling them “orphaned voters,” Fisk found “voters without prior information about the candidates’ preferences or ideological leanings have a difficult choice.”
What Non-Democrats Are Saying
Rick Greenblatt, a Green Party of San Diego County board member, said he didn’t see “much of a difference” between most local Democratic candidates.
“We don’t endorse candidates in what we see as the two corporate parties,” Greenblatt said. “However, I think the closer you are to Bernie Sanders, the more likely you are to gain the Green vote. It would be extraordinary to see the Green vote have any influence on these local elections.”
Antonio Salguero, who chairs the San Diego Libertarian Party, said when it comes to the mayoral race, "the majority of San Diegans won't have a choice."
“Both mayoral candidates want to solve the housing crisis, but both candidates want to use government force to do so by prohibiting short-term rentals,” Salguero said. “If either of these Democratic candidates wants to earn our votes, they would have to propose policies that don't contradict each other and that don't intrude in our liberties.”
Salguero, however, said he was “pleasantly surprised” to see Bry’s call to repeal Assembly Bill 5, a controversial law that requires most independent contractors to be categorized as employees.
Other political parties in San Diego did not respond to a request for comment.
Regardless of who wins, Democrats are rejoicing at the thought of a Democratic majority on the City Council while also having a Democratic mayor — a first for the historically conservative city.
The latest voter registration statistics provided by the San Diego County Registrar of Voters show more than 350,000 registered Democrats, 165,000 registered Republicans and 260,000 voters registered with third parties or listing themselves as unaffiliated.
“The Republican Party, which has largely governed our city, is starting to break up as the Trump Republican Party becomes more and more extreme,” said San Diego County Democratic Party chairman Will Rodriguez-Kennedy. ”They’re bleeding support at all levels — giving anyone who isn’t a Republican a chance to communicate our values and show that we can lead.”
Rodriguez-Kennedy said statistics compiled by the Registrar of Voters show increasing numbers of voters are registering as Democrats and that volume will only increase before the November election.