Election shows how ranked-choice voting can topple unpopular frontrunners and strengthen political coalitions
But many observers also say the situation in Oakland was a perfect storm of opposition to a single candidate, Perata, who professed ignorance about how RCV worked.
"I don't think we'll see something like this again, but it adds to what's possible," said David Latterman, a political consultant who works primarily with downtown-backed candidates.
Jim Stearns, a consultant who represents more progressive candidates, said moderate candidates with money usually prevail in runoff elections, and that probably would have been the case in Oakland if voters hadn't switched to RCV: "I think you would have had a very different result if you'd had a runoff."
Yet most political consultants still don't like RCV, particularly those who work with downtown candidates. "RCV just probably won two races for me, coming from behind, and I still don't like it," said Latterman, who worked with Cohen and D2 winner Mark Farrell. "I like runoffs. I like candidates having to reach out and prove themselves."
Of course, that system favored candidates who have the resources to reach out and target a voter base that is generally smaller and more conservative than in regular elections. But all the consultants are now trying to figure out how to make RCV work.
"The priority of any candidate in ranked-choice is to build your base," Stearns, who is now working on Leland Yee's mayoral campaign, told us. After that, the strategy is about identifying other candidates whose bases would also support your candidate and figuring out how to reach them. "Ranked-choice voting is a labor-intensive thing because you have to talk to everyone within that short window."
But even Latterman said RCV will be a factor in next year's San Francisco mayor's race given what happened in Oakland this year. "For the first time a second place strategy worked and it can't be ignored anymore," Latterman said.
Hill said the progressive candidates and political consultants in San Francisco still need to learn how to work together to increase the turnout of their voters, sell swing voters on the progressive message and policies, and seek to win the race without undercutting those first two goals.
"How do you broaden your coalition and can you do that by having other progressives in the race?" Hill said. "These are the sorts of questions that progressives have to ask."
Unfortunately, Hill hasn't seen evidence that progressive campaigns in San Francisco have figured this out, noting how progressive supervisorial campaigns have instead criticized each other in the last few election cycles, such as this year's D6 race between Jane Kim and Debra Walker.
"That's the kind of behavior we still see from progressives in San Francisco, but that progressives in Oakland have already overcome," Hill said. "Unfortunately, conservatives may figure this out first."
Ultimately, Hill said that for progressive candidates to run strong ranked-choice voting campaigns against better-financed moderate candidates in a high-stakes election like the mayor's race, they need to be a little bit selfless: "The progressive candidates need to care less about whether they win individually than that a progressive wins."
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