For all the emphasis San Diego's leading mayoral candidates are putting on ‘message’, the key to getting elected figures to be the money and machinery that influential backers support them with.
It's not often that mayoral races don’t come down to off-camera, backstage struggles between conservative and progressive factions.
Corporations versus organized labor.
Big bucks, major media, and great 'ground games'.
High-profile endorsements do help -- up to a point.
Councilman David Alvarez scored a coup Thursday by snagging the highly-sought endorsement of fellow Democrat Donna Frye, the iconic former city councilwoman, two-time mayoral candidate, and guru of open government.
Frye told reporters at a noon-hour news conference in Mission Bay Park that she and Alvarez share a bedrock political philosophy: "Understanding that you're a public servant first, that you work for the public, not the other way around. You don't tell them what to do, you ask them what they want you to do, and then help them to do that."
That endorsement is a big deal.
Especially if it helps Alvarez also win the backing of local Democratic Party leaders.
But bigger still is the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council's push to make him the go-to guy for Democratic voters to send into an anticipated runoff with Republican Councilman Kevin Faulconer -- whose bandwagon is driven by the GOP and corporate interests.
"I think we're dealing with what we've always dealt with: labor backing one candidate and business backing the other candidate," says political strategist Jon Elliott. "In my experience, the only two endorsements that really matter are ones that come with money and/or 'feet'. If you have labor, you're going to get labor money supporting your candidacy. You also have a thousand people in labor who will walk the precincts, do door hangers, made phone calls, man phone banks."
However, Elliott adds: I think the Republicans have come to the conclusion that the way to win this is to have one candidate, which they have done, and then go ahead and back this person with everything they've got."
All the while, the GOP and Big Business interests probably will be playing ‘prevent defense’ against Nathan Fletcher, the former Republican assemblyman turned-independent-turned Democrat.
He has high-tech money and city labor union support -- and is more recognizable citywide than Alvarez and Faulconer.
"You know, when you're talking about a low-turnout election, name ID is a big thing,” says Liam Dillon, who covers politics, government and civic issues for Voice of San Diego. “So he's got the benefit of running in the last campaign, and keep his name out in the media while he wasn't running. He has that advantage. That, and his fundraising is what's going to be needed to take him past the folks who are on the right or on the left."
But Dillon says Fletcher is running a de facto race ‘from the middle’, potentially already outflanked on either side by Falconer and Alvarez.
"The problem is, people who are in the middle don't vote in primaries, they vote in general elections,” Dillon noted. “So he has to build the base with money to try to overcome the fact that the kind of people who would naturally be his supporters aren't the kind who come out to special elections."
On Tuesday, the local Democratic Central Committee will give Alvarez, Fletcher and former city attorney Mike Aguirre a chance to make their cases for endorsement.
The benchmark is a 60 percent ‘super-majority’ vote by committee members.
Ironically, Frye endorsed Bob Filner for mayor last year.