Some early bird voters cast their ballots Monday at the Registrar of Voters in Kearny Mesa. Of the 11 total candidates, three are considered major contenders—Kevin Faulconer, David Alvarez and Nathan Fletcher. NBC 7’s Gene Cubbison reveals which candidate got the endorsement of California’s governor.
Never mind that newly minted Democrat Nathan Fletcher has gotten the cold shoulder from his local party’s leadership in the Nov. 19th special mayoral election campaign.
On Monday, the former Republican assemblyman wound up in the warm political embrace of the state's Democratic governor, Jerry Brown.
Will that endorsement help drive turnout in what's seen as a lackluster election cycle, a year after a big-turnout race that put the now-disgraced Democrat Bob Filner in office?
Longtime political observers have their doubts.
"This is going to be a much smaller voter base -- much less information -- and probably, decidedly, much more conservative," Voice of San Diego’s Scott Lewis said.
"I'm shocked at how few people know about the election. What day it is. Even some of the people trying to get people to vote in it have the wrong date," Lewis said.
Some early bird voters who have already received mail ballots chose Monday to make up their minds and seal their choices.
Out of 11 names on the ballot, "I think there's two or three that really stand out,” said David Moog, after casting his vote mid-morning at the Registrar of Voters’ office Kearny Mesa .
“They know the city and they know the layout of the land, so to speak. But I don't know about anybody else," Moog said.
To keep themselves foremost in the voters' minds, the candidates who "really stand out" have plenty of money to bankroll "image spots" – with campaigns of Fletcher and Councilman Kevin Faulconer having just launched their televised pitches weeks after Councilman David Alvarez’s backers began taking to the airwaves.
Before long, there’ll be "attack ads" that take on a darker tone.
"It's difficult for a candidate to start lashing out right now on a negative basis,” said political consultant Jon Elliott. “They leave that to surrogates -- to the surrogates and the PACs -- and they will start some aggressive negative campaigning.”
When that happens, it’s expected that Fletcher will be the prime target.
"He has to worry about the independent groups and both political parties in the city beating him up,” said Voice of San Diego’s Liam Dillon. “And one reason he has to worry about that so much is because it worked the last time. In the last election, he was doing really well in the polls, and then there was an onslaught from both the left and the right that knocked his knees out from under him, and knocked him down to third place."
As for Fletcher's abrupt political team-jumping, which put him in disfavor with Democratic leaders and labor groups who endorsed Alvarez, it didn't seem to alienate the governor – who praised Fletcher as "a solid leader who brings people together to get things done."
Noted Dillon: "He helped broker a deal that would've led to a tax deal for Brown. It actually didn't end up working out, but I think Gov. Brown was impressed with how Nathan handled himself in that situation."
Elliott is skeptical that Brown’s endorsement will be a game changer for Team Fletcher: "Is he really going to go into his pocket and start funding Nathan? I don't see that. And is he going to lead the state Democratic Party to go against the choice of the local Democratic Party? Because the local Democratic party is the one who should be choosing to endorse in their own back yard."
Most of what's predicted to be a fairly low turnout in the race is expected to come from mail ballots.
‘Conventional wisdom’ says the results of the Nov. 19 polling will set up a runoff election between the top two vote-getters, likely in February.
In San Diego's last four mayoral races not involving an incumbent, the second-place finisher in the primary won in the runoff.