After winning San Diego’s mayoral race on Tuesday, Republicans are increasingly optimistic about defeating San Diego-area Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) in the fall.
San Diego City Councilman Kevin Faulconer (R) won the hotly contested mayoral race over fellow Councilman David Alvarez (D) by a comfortable margin. With his victory, the GOP is arguing that socially centrist Republicans could still win in San Diego and hinting Democrats’ struggles to turn out their voters in off-year elections would continue.
“What you saw [Tuesday] night was our reform agenda won,” DeMaio told The Hill Wednesday morning. “It absolutely validates my ‘new generation Republican’ philosophy: We win when we reform government to make it work. That’s the essence of the choice voters were given last night and they supported reform, as they’ve done time and again in the past.”
“If President Obama and Governor Brown can’t convince voters to support a Democrat in a large city in California, the Democrats’ prospects for November don’t look good,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement Wednesday morning.
The wealthy, well-educated district is emblematic of the type Democrats need to do well in this year. They’ve had a lot of success winning fiscally centrist, socially liberal districts in recent years, and many of their most vulnerable incumbents hold these types of districts. The race is also important for Republicans, who are hoping more libertarian-leaning candidates like DeMaio can help win back some of the territory they’ve lost and hold onto open seats where other more socially centrist incumbents are retiring.
Democrats dispute that one low-turnout race says much about the other, arguing Filner’s drawn out, excruciating public scandal related to repeated charges of sexual harassment hurt their chances in the race to succeed him.
Nonpartisan observers say Faulconer’s win is good news for DeMaio, since it shows the electorate would likely be less Democratic than in a presidential year. But they also say Faulconer had less of a problem running away from his party in a municipal race than DeMaio will have in one focused on national issues.
“This shows Republican Party isn’t dead in California. And off-year electorates tend to be more conservative and Republican. It doesn’t mean DeMaio is a sure winner by any stretch, but it’s certainly a positive sign for his candidacy,” said Claremont McKenna College professor Jack Pitney. “But Faulconer wasn’t running as a Republican. He was running as a pragmatic problem-solver. When you’re running for Congress in California with the scarlet R next to your name, that’s a big difference.”
Peters argues he’s in a better position to win than Alvarez, saying both he and Faulconer are deal-makers — and Alvarez and
DeMaio aren’t centrist enough to win in the city or the district. Peters endorsed another Democrat in the primary, which he said put him “in the doghouse” with some of the unions that supported Alvarez.
“It’s pretty standard that San Diego would pick the candidate they perceived as more moderate and more experienced,” he said Tuesday. “Kevin ran a great race, a race that appealed to voters across the board … a lot of folks expressed concern that someone with more moderate politics would be a better Democratic candidate as well.”
Peters said turnout would rise in the fall, and he has more crossover appeal than Alvarez did.
“This is a special election. That’s different from an off-year election. And I think fundamentally, what we’ll show is, based on my record and Carl’s, that I’m a much better fit for the district than he is,” he said.
DeMaio disagreed, pointing out that he won the district in his race despite the boosted turnout of a presidential year.
“In the city of San Diego, we had 80 percent turnout in 2012. Last night, we had 40 percent turnout,” he said. “We still came very close to winning [the mayor’s race] — and I won during the Obama surge in this district, and it’s because we were able to reach out to independents and Democrats and bring them into our coalition.”
Peters and DeMaio are both battling for the center in a swing district President Obama carried by a 6-point margin. But DeMaio also won the portions that lie within the city limits in his 2012 mayoral race.
Peters is talking up his bipartisan efforts, pointing to work with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and others in the California delegation to help secure funding to modernize the San Ysidro border crossing south of San Diego. He noted his votes against Democratic leadership on changes to ObamaCare and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, including votes to delay the individual mandate; for Rep. Fred Upton’s (R-Mich.) “keep your plan” bill; and to repeal the medical device tax.
He’s also touting the endorsements of five of the last six heads of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce — many of them Republicans — as evidence that he carries appeal across the aisle.
Peters says he’s the real centrist in the race, arguing that, on economic issues, DeMaio is much more conservative than he lets on.
“I’ve been willing to vote against my party on these breadbasket issues. I don’t think he’s ever done that. If he’s voted against it, it’s because they weren’t far right enough,” Peters said in a Monday interview before the next day’s mayoral vote.
DeMaio voted against a number of budgets proposed by San Diego’s Republican former mayor and led the push for pension cuts to city employees, which was passed in a city referendum after failing to garner support on the city council. He’s also worked for the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank that has received funding from the conservative Koch brothers.
“If people perceived Carl as a moderate, he’d be mayor of San Diego today. He lost a race to Bob Filner. Carl’s seeing the polls, and he’s trying to do something different and that’s fine. But that’s not his record,” Peters said on Wednesday.
DeMaio fired back, saying his was the only plan that balanced the city’s budget and attacking Peters for lying about his record.
“You have to go back and look at those votes. I actually laid out a balanced budget plan for the city. We got my ideas implemented,” he said. “The old, tired decisive campaign template the unions run is simply not sufficient. San Diegans are smarter and are seeing through that decisive rhetoric.”