San Diego's next mayor is Kevin Faulconer, a Republican who beat President Obama-endorsed David Alvarez by 10 points in Tuesday's special election to replace the former, disgraced Democratic mayor Bob Filner. Some would argue that, because California is a blue state and Obama's endorsement failed to bring out the vote, this foreshadows bad news for the Democratic party during the primaries later this year. Those people would be wrong.
Since 1963, more than half of San Diego's mayors have been Republican, and Filner was just the first Democratic mayor in 20 years. More importantly, Faulconer has positioned himself as a moderate Republican who supports same sex marriage and distances himself from the national GOP.
In a statement congratulating Faulconer, the Republican National Committee laid out the GOP stance on what Faulconer's win means for the primaries (emphasis added):
Nationwide, Republicans have made a commitment to grow our party in urban areas and in states Democrats take for granted. Kevin’s victory shows that commitment is paying off. We will take the lessons learned from this race and apply them in races up-and-down the ballot this year. If President Obama and Governor Brown can’t convince voters to support a Democrat in a large city in California, the Democrats’ prospects for November don’t look good.
The National Review made a similar argument, pointing to low voter turnout, but also "a renewed ability of Republicans to reach out to independent and moderate voters with the need to practice fiscal restraint and sound management." That ability led to Faulconer's win, which breathed "new life into what has been a moribund Republican party in California." Unfortunately, Faulconer is firmly in the Chris Christie-style moderate Republican camp and has also gone out of his way to avoid any association with the national Republican party.
When Politico asked him if he could see himself, the most prominent GOP mayor in the country, delivering the GOP radio address, he laughed and said "Unlikely." His campaign spokesman made a point of saying that Faulconer "did not set foot" inside the Republican National Convention when it was held in his town and his website doesn't once mention the word "Republican." The GOP has been against green initiatives but, as Slate's David Weigel points out, Faulconer pushed a bike sharing program and electric car charging stations. According to Politico, he also said, of his new pro-same sex marriage stance, "My position wasn’t supported by everyone in my political party, but I came to that decision and I think it was the best personal decision for me.” We're not sure that "Republicans should go moderate, support policies the party has rejected and mention the word Republican as little as possible" is the lesson that will be learned here.
The only thing this race tells us is something we already knew — when voter turnout is low, it hurts Democrats more than Republicans. Turnout was low for this special election, and as National Journal explained, it will also be low for 2014. Not as low, but lower than a presidential election year, when Filner was first voted into office. So, the lesson is that Democrats will lose if their constituents don't turn up. That much is nothing new.