Roundtable: Looking ahead to November
S1: It's on two November for San Diego and the rest of California. With the primary behind us , the field for the general election is taking shape. We're looking ahead to what's at stake and if voters will be motivated to show up in November. I met Hoffman and this is KPBS roundtable. Thank you for joining us This Week on KPBS. Roundtable elections are a very busy time for local newsrooms , and that's true for our guests. Gustavo Solis , he's an investigative reporter covering the border for KPBS. And this week , he's focusing on contests in the South Bay. Jesse Marks , he's an associate editor for Voice of San Diego , keeping an eye on the race for sheriff and voter turnout. And Michael Smolens is here. His latest column for the San Diego Union-Tribune is a comprehensive look at all the election results. Let's start with some of the more high profile races here. Chula Vista Mayor. It turned out to be a battle for second place. Half a dozen candidates were running. And Republican John McCain , he's advancing to the runoff , but it's still a close call for second.
S2: But in this low voter turnout race , that that that's enough for two percentage points ahead of Joe Galvez , who is a current councilmember over there. It's an interesting race. I mean , Joe Galvez could have just run for re-election in council district number two and could have probably just walked really easily. But she chose to run for mayor and is now on the outside looking in.
S1: And we know that in November , Gustavo , there will not be multiple Democrats on the ballot.
S2: It changes the entire dynamics of the race and no more campaign. And it will be the first to tell you that it's in his favor. I mean , I guess we should say that the disclosure. Right , these local elections are nonpartisan , but wink , wink , nod , nod , everybody kind of knows everybody's political affiliation. In Chula Vista case , it was John McCain , a Republican , going up against a more campaigner , Joe , Jill Galvis and Encarnacion , Rudy Ramirez , all Democrats. And if you count up their collective votes , they have way more than John McCain. So he feels pretty confident. And I imagine Jill Galvis , if she somehow turned that around , would feel very confident. But it's probably the same dynamic that you see in other races like the D2 race with John Campbell and Linda Lucas. Oh , like Jesse Michael , you probably see how that dynamic changes when it's just general versus a primary. Right.
S3: I agree with you that. Yeah , technically they're nonpartisan , but party affiliation does matter. What really will matter ? I mean , you know , Chula Vista is the second largest city in the county. And do the parties get involved ? Does the Democratic Party get involved whether , you know , regardless of who is there , as they do in other races ? And that could make a big difference , the sort of outside spending or independent spending. One of the things the question I have , Gustavo , is a companies has been around and really raised its profile largely by running for Congress against Darrell Issa. Now , during that race , he really went out of his way to identify as , you know , East County roots , you know , cigar smoking , whiskey drinking. Obviously , you know , he's done well in Chula Vista. So maybe what I'm getting at hasn't really had an effect , but was at all viewed as an outsider , given his sort of East County perspective in those other races.
S2: I mean , I think the other candidates did try to paint him as an outsider. When you talk to John McCain and Rudy Ramirez , they'll say like , well , I'm from Chula Vista. I am actually. I've been here for a while. And it is hard to separate East County , Amar versus South Bay. Amar Right. We spent eight years , like you said , drinking whiskey , doing Facebook life with defend East County , trying to be a moderate Democrat , speaking out against Nancy Pelosi , saying he doesn't support legal or illegal abortion. And just to a bit of a 180 with you know , now I'm a South Bay guy. I'm Latino , I grew up in Eastlake. Maybe the fact that it's a local race kind of helps him out in that regard because he doesn't really have to go with national issues. He can just talk about the budget and police and public spending. You did bring in an interesting point about the Democrats kind of being involved as a party in this race. They kind of were in Chula Vista and it didn't really work out for Sandra Encarnacion. I mean , she had the backing of the county Democratic Party. She had everyone's endorsement. Nora Vargas , Georgette Gomez , I think Shirley Webber , the mayor of Chula Vista , the mayor of Imperial Beach , basically every Democrat in San Diego endorsed her. And that seemed to go nowhere. I mean , she's fourth right now.
S1: And there's also another contest that's getting a lot of attention. And it's a county wide one has county wide implications. And that's the race for San Diego County Sheriff Kelly Martinez. She's heading for a runoff with John Hamelin. And Jesse , how did we get here and what's next now that we know who's going to November ? Yeah.
S4: So I think the first thing you have to take into consideration is that the sheriff's office for at least 50 years , which is as far back as the records go , it's been dominated by Republicans. So the sheriff's office has been a deeply conservative one. Those races were rarely competitive. Occasionally , an incumbent would run unopposed. Just to put it into perspective , I think only if I if my memory serves me. Only four people have actually held that seat since 1970. And at times the sheriffs would try to handpick their own successor , which is what Bill Gore , who just retired a couple of months ago , essentially tried to do with Kelly Martinez. She's the undersheriff. She had been a lifelong Republican until 2020. She changed her party affiliation to Democrat , which raised a few eyebrows. I think progressives were a little suspicious of that. Whether or not her transformation was really an ideological one or whether it was purely a transactional one , a kind of just reading of which way the wind was blowing. So you had an interesting dynamic here with most mainstream establishment , high profile Democrats supporting Kelly Martinez and then the party itself , thanks to its progressive base , backing Dave Myers. Myers was in third place by about 10,000 votes the last time I checked , so he's probably not going to make it through. Martinez is the frontrunner , but she's got an interesting kind of balancing act going forward here because she was part of Gore's administration for for for a time. And so she's been trying to pivot , position herself as a kind of almost reformer within the department , but doesn't want to be too critical of Gore. So she's kind of she's going to be interesting to watch over the next couple of months and how she sort of threads that needle. And she's saying , look , we're going to do reforms within the prisons , the jail system. We're going to make changes to it. But at the same time , she also had the support of the San Diego County gun owners , which probably convinced a few Republicans to come on board. So I think I think Martinez is actually going to be one of the really interesting candidates to watch over the next few months.
S1: And Michael , go ahead.
S3: Jesse's right on everything he said there. And , you know , Martinez has sort of struck a little bit of the middle ground between John Hammer , Ling and Dave Myers. You know , Myers , a 30 year veteran of the department , a former commander. But he sort of billed himself as the reform candidate. I don't know how much his reforms were worth , that much more different than what Kelly Martinez is doing. But I think that that in a way , in this day and age , it sort of signals to some people they're not as much into law and order. And I think we've got a bit of a law and order trend coming up a bit , which frankly may help Martinez with her experience being a knowledgeable and an insider of the department , yet talking about somewhat modest change.
S1: And there's also one county supervisor race that could end up focusing on the local response to COVID. Nathan Fletcher , he finished on top in the primary as he's seeking another term. He was the face of the county's COVID efforts. And his opponent , Amy Reichert , she made a name for herself as a critic of some of those mandates and some of the other precautions.
S3: I mean , it was over before the primary. Anything can happen. We always have to throw in that caveat. But it's the last I looked. Nathan Fletcher had , I think , 62% , and Rinehart wasn't even at 30%. Like you say , they were as sort of the face and respective faces of the two sides of the COVID argument. And , you know , despite all the attention that the the people that were critical of the restrictions , the masks , the close and so forth , the vast majority of the public we've seen in poll after poll , certainly statewide , supported that approach largely not that everybody was happy about it. And Nathan Fletcher was the the the focus of that. That's really all that Ryan Hart is known for. So I think despite all the attention , that's a minority. And I think this vote sort of showed that out. Not having said that , I don't think she's responsible for all the chaos at the supervisor meetings that that we all reported on that revolved around this issue. But because she's the face of the sort of COVID skeptic in terms of the response from the county , I think that probably hurt her to a to a degree. But yeah. Nathan Fletcher is one of the most powerful politicians in the region right now. I think he cruises pretty easily to a re-election.
S4: Michael , I'm also curious what you think about where she fits more broadly into the Republican Party , because as an institution , it's been in decline for a few years now. Democrats maintain a majority on the city council as well as the county. And so it seems like their their institutional power has waned. And somebody like her strikes me as operating kind of partly outside of the party structure , partly inside of it. And you're seeing this kind of grassroots activism , whether whether you agree with the anti-vax stuff and anti-vax stuff is sort of secondary. But I think it is important to know that there is a kind of vacuum that has been opened up within Republican politics.
S3: And , you know , as far as her future , regardless of what happens and if she loses badly in November , it sort of depends on what she decides to do. Does she want to continue as a , you know , political figure and an activist , obviously , that you would have to move on from the cogat aspect ? But we've seen. As you said , that that sort of activism , very conservative , you know , sometimes borderline or over into conspiracy. But I think she has tried to at least walk a fine line on that. You know , she presents herself as a pretty good public figure and how she addresses things. Her sort of adamant aspect of how she pushes things and she can rally a crowd. Does that transfer beyond the covert aspect ? I think. But like you say , the Republican Party can use a shot of some enthusiasm , perhaps like that , regardless of what you think of where she's coming from.
S1: You're listening to KPBS Roundtable. And this week , our guests are Gustavo Solis from KPBS News. Jesse Marks from Voice of San Diego and Michael Smolens from the San Diego Union-Tribune. And Michael , going back to you , we know that you're following San Diego City Council races and four seats are up for grabs in November. Jennifer Campbell , she survived the recall effort and now this primary.
S3: You know , she she's facing a little known Republican dentist , Linda Lucas , who is sort of a surprise , not only entry , but a surprise nominee , if you will , that advances to November. A lot was going on here , frankly , people that were very concerned about Lori Saldana , former assembly member and Democrat and a real favorite of some progressive Democrats in town , was the real threat in the primary to get into the runoff with Campbell. And that would have presented a big threat for Campbell in November. Lucas was boosted by Campbell supporters , as we've known and written and read. There were some independent spending that not only harshly criticized Saldana , but promoted a little caucus , too , where , you know , people that didn't know her. She came off as a as a good alternative , frankly , to Saldana in some people's minds. So in other words , they chose what they think , who they think is the weaker candidate for Campbell.
S1: And now going back to KPBS reporter Gustavo Solis. At the state level , it got a little bit confusing in the South Bay , and we're seeing some of that play out in the results. That race was on the ballot twice. David Alvarez , he won the remainder of the term vacated by Lorena Gonzalez. But Georgette Gomez , she finished first for the full next term.
S2: I mean , it's just kind of silly to have two elections for the same position and the same two people running , but then one wins one and the other one wins the other. It it doesn't make too much sense to me. I will say , though , it is kind of nice that there wasn't an appointment in this race. Just like when I was filling out the ballot. There were multiple positions where you were voting for people who who were essentially running as incumbents to seats they were appointed to , which has always kind of bothered me because it's not very democratic. And we know how powerful that incumbency is , even if you were appointed. I think Jorge Gomez is pretty interesting just because she had this meteoric rise and she became council president and didn't do so well against Sarah Jacobs , and now she's kind of back at it. So that's kind of I'm curious to see how that goes. But honestly , I think Jesse and Michael , you know more about this race , and I know you've covered them in the city council. I don't cover the San Diego City Council. So curious to hear what you guys think.
S3: Well , it was an interesting race. And like I said , it was confusing. We had similar confusion at the U.S. Senate race where you had a special election in a primary the same time. A couple of things. One is that if you look back at the primary for the special election , let's deal with that in the current 80th district. Georgette Gomez , did , I believe , end up slightly ahead of David Alvarez ? There were Republicans on that ballot now head to head , David Alvarez. I think it's more than ten points he defeated her by in the special election. He campaigned as a business oriented Democrat , which was a bit of a shift from him because he was sort of big in the Democratic progressive community , as Gomez is. So he appealed to Republicans , and I think that that helps also as far as now shifting. Again , I know this is confusing , but to the current the actual primary for the future two year district , not just replacing the vacant seat , that's actually that vote was a bit of a different electorate that's in the redrawn areas and some people believe that that's actually more favorable to David Alvarez now. Georgette Gomez ended up just a little bit ahead of him. But again , you had some Republicans on that ballot. And I think that both Alvarez running in November as the incumbent , the Republican vote , you would think would go mostly to him. So I think that , frankly , he would have to be viewed as the favorite , even though he's in the second spot right now. I always reserve the right to be wrong.
S2: It is interesting that David Alvarez , it can be like a progressive Democrat. I thought he was a lobbyist.
S3: Frankly , that was the rap on him. And apparently it didn't hurt him too much. I mean , he ran as mayor , was the favorite of labor in the progressive , you know , community in San Diego , the progressive. Wing of the Democratic Party. He did become , you know , a businessman , a lobbyist , and really courted a lot of business support. A lot of people thought that was an about face for him. You know , he'll maintain at least blue in the face that that that he has progressive values are still the same and so forth. But that certainly is a big shift. So you give Gomez credit because she's maintained her consistency. They were actually very big allies , you know , on most issues. So it is interesting that despite that big switch , which sometimes hurts politicians , it didn't seem to hurt David Alvarez too much.
S1: And let's shift the discussion over to the some of the congressional races. One of the decisive seats for control of Congress , it might be North County's 49th. Mike Levin is running for a third term there. And Orange County Republican Brian Marriott , he's trying again. Michael , what's different now versus two years ago ? It seems like a similar race.
S3: Well , in many respects , yes. But in other big respects , absolutely not , because this time Mike Levin is facing , as we know , some really serious Republican headwinds. It's the national trend. I mean , first of all , it's an off year , you know , US presidential year election and that always benefits the the or usually benefits the party out of the White House. So you would expect Republicans to pick up some seats just under normal circumstances. But with inflation and other issues going on , the trends are really going for Republican. That wasn't the case when he first ran in 2018 and 2020. Franken Those were Democratic years. In 2020 , though , he did defeat a Marriot by a little over six points and Trump lost that district by a lot. So Marriott , you know , was not totally identified with Trump back then. Looking forward , we'll just have to see Eleven's done a good job. I think just in terms of tending to the district , the issues of San Onofre and the nuclear waste , the veterans issues , you've got Camp Pendleton , a lot of veterans is really gearing up for November. Right now , he's only at 50% of the vote. You know that Marriott's far in second place. But if you add up the other Republicans on the ballot , that's going to make , you know , make it a close race. So it's going to be close , maybe maybe 11 holds on. But , you know , a lot of it maybe really because of the national trend as much as anything.
S1: And Jesse , go ahead.
S4: I think that's right , Michael. I was looking at the results and most of the incumbents around San Diego County got about 60% of the vote. Scott. Scott Peters had 53 as well. But there was also a Democrat who tried to primary him. So he effectively has around 60% of the Democratic vote. So Levin's district , I think , is the one to watch. And to your point , it's worth remembering and taking into consideration that it was represented by Republicans , albeit in a different form , with a slightly different boundary up until a few years ago. So I do think that that what is still the sensitive one at the moment , and I think that more broadly speaking , Republicans are going to have the advantage going into the election and Democrats are going to have to make a case that they care about the cost of living , that they care about the concerns of ordinary people , and especially with the potential recession looming , that's going to be difficult. And more importantly , I should say , Democrats have been in power in the federal government now for a couple of years. And frankly , they don't have a lot to show for themselves. I mean , they made a quite a lot of promises about student debt , about stimulus , about infrastructure , and they didn't really deliver. And their excuse is always that the Republicans stood in their way , or it was Joe Manchin , it was Christian cinema. So they like to portray themselves as being these kind of victims of the political process. And I think you're playing with fire when you make that argument , because if you're just going to go around and say , well , the other guys stopped me , or the more conservative members of my own party blocked me , then it begs the question , why should anyone vote for you ? And I think guys like Levin are going to have to make that argument effectively to people.
S1: Here's what San Diego County's registrar of voters , Cynthia Paz , had to say earlier this week.
S3: The one thing I can say that surprised me is rolling off of that recall election. I would have thought a higher turnout. We saw 60% in the recall. So I thought that interest would still be out there. Since this is a governor's race. But it did seem to wane a little bit.
S1: Now we're hearing that this primary could break the record for the lowest turnout in state history. In San Diego County , ballots are still being counted , but as of Friday morning , turnout was 24% of registered voters. And Jesse , do we know why it's lower so far ? And I'd like to hear from everybody here.
S4: I think generally primaries tend to be lower turnout just historically. There's probably some disagreement over the causes of that. I know Michael has written about how he sees it as voter enthusiasm being delayed. I've written about how I think that there's a sense of apathy within the electorate at the moment , which is probably been compounded by COVID and the financial stress that most people are under. Personally , but also take into consideration the fact that even with 34% of the turnout , that is higher than at least the 2014 primary. And Michael , I think you and I were talking before the show you some more stats on that.
S3: Well , something that I had forgotten about. But people that really pass the data point out that there's a lot more voters eligible and registered voters in California back in 2010. They got to check my notes here. It was there were 17 million voters in California. Now there's 22 million. So , you know , you could literally have the raw number of votes being more than a previous year , but the voter turnout being less because you've got more people registered. But we're getting into the weeds a bit here. I think November will be very interesting. It is an off year election , so you don't usually get the turnout as in a presidential election in California makes it as easy as any state to vote. But the reality was this just wasn't a very interesting election. We're talking about some very siloed , interesting local elections. And I think that was the case all across the state , but there was nothing at the top of the ticket. The registrar rightly pointed out there's a lot of interest in the recall. Well , heck , that was one race. And it was very interesting. Gavin Newsom did not have any competition to speak of us. Senator Alex Padilla did not have any competition. So once you get past that , also the fact that we don't have ballot initiatives in the primary anymore , there's not that sort of statewide and unifying interest level. And it sort of falls on on a lot of local elections , which I think we're intense. But that affects the the turnout. But we'll see. We'll see in November.
S2: Right. Right now , a markup in Aja has a little less than 7000 votes and he's moving on to the general election , less than 7000 votes. There are 300,000 people in Chula Vista. And obviously that's the whole population. Not everyone is old enough or registered or a naturalized citizen that they can vote. But the fact that what like two or 3% of Chula Vista is all you need to to move on to a general is kind of wild. I mean , there are apartment complexes in Chula Vista with more than 7000 people. Like I don't know what that says about San Diego or just our democracy when so few people are participating in a way kind of helps the candidates because they have to do less work. They don't have to get as many votes as they they would if more people voted. I don't know. Like I don't have anything other than just kind of questions and observations. But to me , that that's kind of like a sad head scratcher.
S1: And I think that's a perfect segway into the next. And final question and we'll start with Jessie here.
S4: And I think Gustavo just made a really interesting point , which is that when when turnout is low and people aren't enthusiastic or they're apathetic about the process , there's a compounding effect there because the political campaigns themselves will only target people who have already voted. So you create a little bubble. You only go to the doors where people consistently vote because you want to maximize the dollars that you have. And so over to overtime , that's a really that's a really challenging problem. And I went out a couple of months ago and I spoke to folks on the ground who try to try to get out the vote. I spoke to a lot of nonvoters themselves. And what I was typically hearing from people was that politicians come and go , but their lives don't seem to materially benefit over time. So the incentive for them to get enthusiastic to learn more about politicians is less. And a lot of those communities tend to be low income , they're less educated , they're less likely to own a home. And so I think maybe it begins with just admitting that punting every single major issue to the marketplace to just figure out hasn't worked well for Americans for the last couple of decades. And so there is a real sense of apathy that comes from that.
S1: And Michael , you have the final word here.
S3: I think , you know , is the interest is the election interesting ? And I think touching on something that Jesse did that that are the issues going to be out there that really motivate people and mean something to them ? We will have see , obviously , economic issues drive a lot and Republicans are that's working in their favor in a negative way with concerns about the economy and inflation. We'll have to see. Does that January six committee hearings bring that back to light and does that scare and motivate some people on both sides , perhaps , you know , the Roe v Wade decision overturning that coming down from the Supreme Court , some people seem to think that will boost Democrats. And of course , we'll just have to see. Will there still be the outrage and concern on gun violence as there is right now ? Those things could all have a factor in the election and mean something to people. But I think there is a lot of disconnect , as Jesse said , to people's everyday lives , that it just they don't see things changing or , you know , worse improving with their vote in a lot of cases. So , you know , I always do the wait and see thing , but we will definitely see more turnout , more enthusiasm. In November. By the nature of it being a November election , will it be good and good enough for democracy ? We'll just have to see.
S1: Well , I want to thank you all for this week's discussion. There's definitely more to come in the weeks and months ahead. Once again , our guests have been Gustavo Solis from KPBS News. Jesse Marks from Voice of San Diego and Michael Smolens from the San Diego Union-Tribune. You can listen to the KPBS Roundtable podcast anytime at K PBS.org. I met Hoffman. Thanks so much for joining us. We'll be back with you next week on Roundtable.