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What's In A Mayoral Endorsement?

It seems not a day goes by without news of another endorsement in the race for mayor of San Diego.

On one side is the San Diego Port Tenants Association, standing up for City Councilman and Republican candidate Kevin Faulconer.

Making speeches with another candidate, there's a cabal of powerful, local Latinos endorsing Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat Nathan Fletcher.


Then there's Donna Frye, the former councilwoman who played a key roll in the demise of Mayor Bob Filner, casting her symbolic vote for Councilman and Democrat candidate David Alvarez.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, the Regional Chamber of Commerce, Union Plumbers and Pipefitters — it doesn’t take long for the list to seem overwhelming and meaningless.

So just what do these endorsements mean?

It turns out they can mean a lot more than just a rubber stamp from a politician or a special interest group.

“It means both money and votes,” according to Mesa College political scientist Carl Luna. “You should be able to tap into the moneyed networks, which allows you to campaign, to get volunteers to come out to go door to door, and all that ultimately translates into more votes.”


Luna breaks endorsements down into two categories: Individual endorsements that bring you another politician's network, or large group endorsements that bring you campaign infrastructure.

Both of these help create a shorthand for whom to vote for, especially in an election where you may not be familiar with those in the running.

"The endorsements bring with them an easier way to understand who you want to support,” Luna said.

Luna gave the example of facing 50 badly worded ballot initiatives — it can be confusing, so how do you figure how to vote?

Luna said he often refers to who is supporting and opposing those initiatives.

"It gives me a lot of information about them,” he said,

The logic is simple: If you don’t know the candidate, you use the people you do know who are supporting — or opposing — that candidate.

Take the example of Kevin Faulconer. When he received Jerry Sander’s endorsement, Faulconer said “people say 'OK, I like what Jerry Sander’s did, and if he is endorsing Kevin, maybe I will give Kevin a stronger look.'”

While Faulconer is the senior city councilman, that doesn’t always translate into being known outside his own district. According to Luna, Faulconer is probably best known citywide for helping to broker the deal that brought down disgraced Mayor Filner.

Getting known across the entire voting block is essential for a mayoral candidate, Luna said. Name recognition is also an issue for David Alvarez.

“Mr. Alvarez has a problem," he said. "When I talk with people about the election, often their first response is, 'Who?'"

Alvarez said he knows he has to answer that question in order to have any chance of winning the election. He said that is what makes individual endorsements so essential.

"These are people also that have the ability to represent other areas that I haven’t had the chance to represent, “ Alvarez said.

He said these surrogates create pathways into neighborhoods where he is an unknown entity.

Individual endorsements can deliver with them voting blocks, an essential factor especially in a crowded field and a short election.

According to Luna, the endorsements of big groups is also key because they bring entire campaign infrastructure at their disposal.

“In the Republican party, you want to get the Chamber of Commerce. You want to get the Republican Central Committee behind you," Luna said. "In the Democratic party, you need labor unions, but you also need a variety of powerful Democrats, elected officials and the party because its such a large broad coalition."

Democrat Nathan Fletcher has the longest endorsement list: there is some labor presence, some business backing, and many big name Democrats.

So if endorsements bring campaign infrastructure, very real money and ready-made voters, what do the endorsers get back?

“The old expression is 'You gotta dance with the one that brung you,'" Luna said. "Whatever coalition helps you get elected, you better return something to those groups.”

Endorsements aren’t just a way to help voters pick their pony. They're also a window into whom you can expect candidates to be working with — and for — in the future.

The 2024 primary election is March 5. Find in-depth reporting on each race to help you understand what's on your ballot.