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What’s Ahead For San Diego Democrats In 2016 And Beyond?

Photo by Milan Kovacevic

Mayor Kevin Faulconer delivers his second State of the City speech at the Balboa Theatre, Jan. 14, 2016.

We're sorry. This audio clip is no longer available. A transcript has been made available.

Both the city and county of San Diego have more registered Democrats than Republicans, but you wouldn't know it from the upcoming race for San Diego mayor.

In San Diego, 39.2 percent of the 603,725 registered voters are Democrats compared to 26.1 percent Republicans. In the county, 36.2 percent of the 1,179,093 registered voters are Democrats compared to 30.4 percent Republicans.

Even though a higher Democratic turnout is expected this year because it's a presidential election year, Republican Kevin Faulconer has been running virtually unopposed for mayor with no major Democratic rival.

Former Democratic Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña took out nominating papers on Friday to challenge Faulconer. The San Diego Reader and Voice of San Diego said she plans to formally announce her run on Thursday. She did not return messages Monday from KPBS.

Voice of San Diego's article said Saldaña left the Democratic Party in 2014. She served in the Assembly from 2004 to 2010, and ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for then-Rep. Brian Bilbray's seat in 2012. The Republican incumbent eventually lost to Democrat Scott Peters.

Carl Luna, a political science professor at San Diego Mesa College, told KPBS Midday Edition that it's a bit of a head scratcher that the Democrats have not put up anyone to run against Faulconer in June.

"How you can go into an election like this without a mayoral candidate almost boggles the imagination," Luna said.

So how did this situation come to be? Several potential Democratic challengers opted to run for other seats.

Well-known San Diego Democrat and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins decided to try to unseat fellow San Diego Democrat Marty Block for his state Senate seat. Term limits keep Atkins from seeking re-election to the Assembly.

Francine Busby, chairwoman of the San Diego County Democratic Party, said the party urged Atkins and Democratic San Diego Councilman Todd Gloria to run for mayor, but neither did. Gloria is running to replace Atkins in the Assembly.

“What it comes down to is that people make personal decisions,” Busby told Midday Edition. “We were frankly very disappointed that neither one of them chose to run for mayor, but we still feel we will have a progressive candidate in the race.”

Busby would not name that "progressive candidate" on Midday Edition. When it became public later on Monday that Saldaña had pulled papers to make a run against Faulconer, Busby confirmed it was the former assemblywoman she was talking about.

Mickey Kasparian, president of the San Diego Labor Council, said he was "concerned and frustrated" that a viable candidate has yet to emerge on the Democratic ticket.

"How could we not, on the progressive side, have someone running for mayor?" Kasparian said on Midday Edition. "It’s just mind-boggling."

Kasparian expressed frustration that Atkins and Block were challenging each other for the same state Senate seat. He said he had hoped Atkins would run against Faulconer.

Kasparian said progressives in San Diego were set back by former Democratic Mayor Bob Filner, who resigned in 2013 less than a year into his term after more than a dozen women accused him of unwanted sexual advances.

"Since the Filner debacle, we’ve just been stagnated,” Kasparian said. "It’s frustrating that no one wants to take the leadership to run for mayor to make a difference in our city."

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