Monday, May 24, 2010
San Diego’s political demographics have been changing over the past decade. Once a reliably Republican town, Democratic voters now outnumber Republican registered voters.
The Republican Party has not been able to reverse a trend that began in 2008. Instead they are fighting to influence the outcome of elections by pouring more money into campaigns.
The gap between Democratic and Republican registered voters in San Diego County is narrow, but it has grown from just over 3,000 people in 2008 to almost 7,000 people last month. Tony Krvaric, chair of San Diego’s Republican Party, is out to change that.
“We haven’t caught up yet,” he said, “because voter registration is a lagging indicator. People will vote Republican before they register Republican. That said, our goal is to flip the county back into the GOP column before November.”
The figure of 7,000 people actually constitutes a tiny margin in a county of 1.4 million registered voters.
But in the City of San Diego, the margin is much bigger. Republicans would have to register another 70,000 people to catch up with Democrats. And San Diego City is where the Republican Party has launched a legal battle to enable it to pour money into candidate campaigns.
“Money equals speech,” Kravaris says. “We could benefit from more speech, not less speech. It comes down to a First Amendment question.”
A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of a Republican Party suit that challenges any restriction on parties contributing to candidates in the City of San Diego. Until this year, the city charter banned political parties from contributing directly to candidates in what are technically non-partisan races.
Jess Durfee is chair of the Democratic Party in San Diego.
“The concept that money equals speech is ridiculous,” Durfee says. “Especially when the speech that you’re talking about is being funded by downtown business interests -- corporations, not individuals.”
If unlimited party spending is allowed, the Democratic Party would be at a distinct disadvantage. A check of the Secretary of State’s website reveals San Diego’s Democratic Party raised about $30,000 in the first quarter of this year. The Republicans raised $110,000.
Republican Chair Krvaric is scathing about the Democrats’ fundraising abilities. “It’s because the Democrats have basically outsourced all its political work to the labor unions," he said. "If you look at the money that the labor unions are spending, I can only hope to spend that amount of money.”
Figures from the last primary election don’t support this though. In May of 2008 the San Diego Democratic Party and organized labor had put less than $500,000 into city races. The San Diego Republican Party spent more than $700,000.
Durfee says there’s a reason democratic coffers are smaller.
“We look to labor for support, but we look to our donor base which, by comparison, we have a large donor base, but they’re low-dollar donors and that’s because we represent the basic working class people of San Diego and not the corporate interests.”
In spite of the spending disparity, more democratic candidates won seats in the City of San Diego in 2008 and the council is now made up of six Democrats and two Republicans.
Krvaric’s goal is to change that. Backed by the recent lifting of campaign spending limits for parties, he said the Republican Party is committed to putting $20,000 into the campaign for Lore Zapf who is running in District 6, where Democrat Donna Frye is termed out.
“I think we’re going to see a runoff in District 6,“ Krvaric said, “between liberal Howard Wayne and taxpayer advocate Lorie Zapf. That’s certainly our goal, and this will be a large battle going into November, I’m pretty sure.”
Durfee isn’t so sure. “Fortunately," he said, “we have by far the better candidate there. “Howard Wayne has a large base of support and has been able to be a viable and competitive candidate. They are trying to prop up a weak candidate and in the absence of her being able to raise money. They’re going to have to do it for her.”
Krvaric knows the San Diego Ethics Commission has set a cap of $1,000 for political party contributions, which is due to go into effect before the November election. But Republican Party attorneys are likely to challenge that cap in court.
“Our position,” Krvaric said, “has always been that there should be no contribution limits, no limits to the way the party supports its candidates.”
Historically, large sums of money have not proven very effective in San Diego city politics. Current Mayor Jerry Sanders beat his rival Steve Francis, who spent $4 million of his own money in a bid for the seat.
Phil Thalheimer couldn’t win a seat on the council in spite of spending over $1 million. Still, Democrat Jess Durfee says allowing unlimited party spending could put Democrats at a disadvantage.
“The Ethics Commission and others feel very strongly that it is important to have limitations on campaign spending,” Durfee said, “because in the absence of that, you go in and basically you buy the election.”
Republicans hope removing restrictions on what political parties can spend directly on candidates will eventually shift the balance of power back in their favor.