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Fletcher’s Shun Of GOP: Does Party Matter In SD Race?

— It’s likely been a heady few days for Nathan Fletcher. The Assemblyman and former Marine announced last week he was leaving the Republican Party and striking out as an independent candidate in his bid for mayor.

Aired 4/3/12 on KPBS News.

The decision by San Diego mayoral candidate Nathan Fletcher to leave the Republican Party and run as an independent has garnered national attention. But in a race that is supposed to be non-partisan, does the move even matter?

Fletcher's Shun Of GOP: Does Party Matter In SD Race?

It was a decision met with scorn by some, who pointed out Fletcher ditched his party only after the local chapter declined to endorse him, a nod Fletcher insists he didn’t expect to get.

But others have praised the move as a bold decision that highlights just how partisan politics have become. Fletcher said there’s no room for compromise in an increasingly conservative GOP. Columns in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times were largely supportive of Fletcher’s move, even saying he might be a pioneer of independence. But Mesa College political science professor Carl Luna said it might be a bit early to use Fletcher as a political barometer.

“If he wins the mayor’s race or at least gets into the fall run-off as an independent that’s going to set up some national vibrations. That’s going to be a sign that people aren’t happy with the two parties,” Luna said. “If he doesn’t, he goes that direction of the losers that you don’t hear much from in the future.”

But does his switch matter at all in race that is technically nonpartisan? When voters head to the polls, California law dictates they won’t see a party affiliation next to the candidates’ names. Former City Councilwoman Donna Frye, a Democrat, made her own national headlines with her 2005 write-in campaign for mayor. She said everyone knows the nonpartisan label is a misnomer, including the voters.

“I will tell you, when you go knocking on doors, one of the first things people will ask you is, are you a Democrat or a Republican? And I have had doors slammed, luckily not too many, when you answer that question,” she said.

Frye has endorsed Democratic Congressman Bob Filner for mayor but she said Fletcher’s move has injected some excitement into the race.

“That raised the enthusiasm level, I believe, and got people talking about things that had not been part of this particular campaign, and now are, a discussion about the role of party politics,” she said. “Even though you’re talking about a non-partisan race, allegedly. We all know that’s not true.”

While Fletcher may have shaken up the race with his decision, it’s not clear what impact it’ll have on election day. UC San Diego political scientist Vladimir Kogan said the voters who turn out for primaries tend to be hardcore party supporters, and also tend to be Republicans. He said those who may be swayed don’t generally turn out, and even high profile newspaper columns won’t change that.

“The kind of voters that would be most affected by this are precisely the kinds of voters that don’t read the New York Times and read David Brooks,” he said. “If you look at polls, the people who say they’re independent are primarily people who don’t care about politics, they don’t follow politics, they don’t watch the news about politics. And they’re independent precisely because they don’t care. And reaching those voters is very, very hard.”

But Fletcher's chief strategist Tom Shepard said experience has shown him San Diego voters view the mayor's office as a nonpartisan position. He also said the makeup of voters in primary elections might change under California's new open primary system.

Still, Kogan said Fletcher could face a disadvantage when it comes to money because he won’t have access to party funds like candidates endorsed by Republicans or Democrats. But he said so far Fletcher has been successful in raising money, and he has a lot of it.

“I think that is going to be much more important than whether he’s a Democrat or Republican, you know how he spends his money and what impact that has,” Kogan said.

Fletcher’s campaign said he’s raised more than $50,000 and received donations from nearly every state in the days since he announced he was leaving the GOP. But he still has a long way to go. Polls throughout the campaign have shown Fletcher at the back of the pack with Republican District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis while Republican City Councilman DeMaio and Filner held the number one and two spots. Whether Fletcher’s move toward independence will help him or hurt him remains to be seen in this non-partisan race.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | April 3, 2012 at 10:43 a.m. ― 4 years, 11 months ago

Party doesn't matter, but your record does.

For example, I am a Democrat but I voted for Jerry Sanders for a second term because because he is a moderate and there were no viable progressive challengers.

From my perspective, Fletcher had a very mixed background. His stance on don't ask don't tell certainly boosted his favorability, conidering he is a vet who spoke out publicly and passionately in favor of equality.

I was a little less impressed with the Chelsea' Law legislation. It seemed like he swooped in and tried to score political points off of a tragedy. We have too many sex offender laws that are being shown to not only **not** work but actually make us **less safe**. Case in point "Jesica's Law", a dreadful boondoggle that was passed during the hysteria of a high profile case and now makes it **harder** to track sex offenders.

In any case, I am supporting Mr. Filner because he has the most solid and consistent progressive record.

If a runoff hold occur between Fletcher and DeMaio or Fletcher and Dumanis, then I would definitely vote or Fletcher because he is more moderate.

I think Mr. Fletcher seems like a decent person, but my hope is that Mr. Filner is our next mayor.

And as I have been posting over and over and over, we **must not** elect Dirty Carl. He is the worst of the bunch, a rotten wormy apple. A dirty, filthy man, a conceited vile person who is all talk and has the moral standards of an alley cat ( and that's being a little rough on alley cats).

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Avatar for user 'Thomas'

Thomas | April 3, 2012 at 11:16 p.m. ― 4 years, 11 months ago

I'm afraid that Mr. Kogan's remarks about independent voters being such because they don't care, are grossly mistaken. I am an independent voter, and while I state that here, it is not a badge that I wear on my sleeve. There are policies that I agree with from both the Republican and Democratic parties. And there are many from each that I disagree with. My non-partisan stance does not stem from any political apathy, it stems from a well-read, educated and independent mind.

I applaud Mr. Fletcher's decision to run as an independent, even if it merely serves to draw attention to the sad state of our political parties today. I make no pretenses in saying that I believe there are quite a few individuals like myself, in this county and in this nation, who recognize that Democrats and Republicans are largely the same beast, just in different clothing. It's not that the party candidates are bad men, either (another thing I despise is the demonizing of political foes - you want my vote, you better act like a gentleman); but inevitably party candidates find themselves more loyal to their party than to their constituents.

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