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Political Cross Currents in the City of San Diego

The number of registered Democrats in the city of San Diego is outpacing Republicans, and the democratic lead has widened significantly since the beginning of the year. But the trend is not being

Political Cross Currents in the City of San Diego

The number of registered Democrats in the city of San Diego is outpacing Republicans,

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and the democratic lead has widened significantly since the beginning of the year.

But the trend is not being reflected in the candidates winning public office.

KPBS reporter Alison St John looks at what’s behind this phenomenon.

UCSD professor of political science Steve Erie sums it up like this.

ERIE :  I call this in terms of San Diego city politics,” Republican reconquista.” 

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Erie says the republican campaigns for city office have been very effective,  threatening the democratic majority of five to three on the city council

ERIE : And that’s quite likely, and we will wind up with possibly a four/ four split on the city council and a republican mayor just as the rest of the country seems to be going in the other political direction.

Erie says the democratic party started to gain more seats on the San Diego city council in the 1990s when elections changed from being city wide to district wide. That gave more voice to neighborhood issues. But since then, he says the Republican party has come to life and is now fighting to regain control of the city.

Tony Krvaric, chair of the San Diego Republican Party, says the republicans’ success began in 2001 when Ron Nehring was elected as chairman.

KRVARIC : and his message was focus on winning elections, versus arguing with each other and having ideological battles left and right,  so we’re focused on winning elections and we have a track record of success.

The San Diego Republican Party outspent the democratic party about 5 to 1 in the June Primary. That helped mayor Jerry Sanders to win his race outright.

Krvaric is scathing about the Democratic party.

KRVARIC: Candidates, they had nobody credible for mayor and I don’t know what they’re focused on, but they’re not focused on winning elections.

Down at the Democratic Party Headquarters the office bustles with volunteers answering phones and handing out yard signs.

Party chair Jess Durfee says even though there are nearly 60 thousand more democrats than republicans registered in the city, it’s tough to keep up with the republicans’ campaign fund raising 

DURFEE: I actually think it all comes back to money, the business community the hotel owners, the developers, they pour money into these races, to them its an investment they seem to be able to come up with endless supplies of money  

In the key city council race in District 7, the race that could change the balance of power on the council, the republican candidate, April Boling, outspent democrat Marti Emerald over two to one in June.

But Jennifer Jacobs, a leading republican campaign strategist, rejects the argument that money from republican and business interests helped April Boling win.

JACOBS : At the end of the day we won and money had nothing to do with it except that it made us competitive.

Jacobs says the republican candidates are winning because the voters have more faith in their ability to pull the city out of its financial crisis. And she’s convinced that if republicans can win back San Diego, it will become a model for future republican victories in other cities, as the financial fallout from public pension plans spreads .

JACOBS : It’s very important if the republicans take back San Diego, because then it gives us an opportunity as a republican party to put our ideas into action and show why republicans getting elected at local office are the best ones to run local government.

But Jess Durfee of the Democratic Party argues says the public may not realize the  implications of losing the democratic majority on the council, especially to balance the power of the republican mayor..  

DURFEE: Public services, living wage, affordable housing, development issues , protecting the city’s environment all of those things are going to be critical issues and I fear that if we shift back to a republican council we are going to see developers run amuck in the city of San Diego.

Carl Luna, professor of political science at Mesa College, reflects on the anomaly of a growing democratic populace versus an ascendant republican political power structure..

LUNA : It doesn’t matter at the end of the day whose registered, it’s who shows up on election day and republicans in this city vote more than democrats.

It remains to be seen if the democratic wave expected to turn out in support of Barak Obama will be enough to lift the democratic boats caught in the cross currents of San Diego city politics.

Alison St John, KPBS news.

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