Reading the June election tea leaves

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Everyone’s reading the tea leaves after the local election. The November supes races will be a huge deal, and it’s really tempting to try to figure out what the DCCC results mean for the fall. Paul Hogarth at BeyondChron takes it on here. Chris Daly (no surprise) disagrees.

Let me see if I can sort some of this out.

Hogarth’s basic argument is that the progressives didn’t really do so well in the election:

“In District 8, moderate Scott Wiener finished 1,400 votes ahead of progressive Rafael Mandelman – as the two face the same electorate in November. The renters’ financial hardship measure, Proposition F, lost badly citywide – and finished far worse in neighborhoods that are usually pro-tenant. Debra Walker fared well in her run for DCCC, but most of her votes were not in District 6 – and results there suggest that another candidate for Supervisor could make such a race highly competitive.”

Hogarth is completely upfront and honest about disclosing that he’s a supporter of one of Walker’s opponents, Jane Kim -- a former Green who is now a Democrat (and is very much a progressive), but wasn’t in the DCCC race. Theresa Sparks wasn’t in the DCCC race either. Nor was Jim Meko. There are several strong candidates in that race, and they don’t break down along easy political lines. So looking at how many votes Walker got in D6 seems a little off point; there’s nobody to compare her to.

Back to D8. Hogarth:

"Now we know [the D8 breakdown], and the numbers are even worse for Mandelman. Scott Wiener finished approximately 1,400 votes ahead in District 8 (my vote count shows him at 5,954 to Mandelman’s 4,561.) As a comparison, in December 2002 – the last time District 8 saw a hotly contested race on “moderate v. progressive” lines – Bevan Dufty got 11,000 votes, Eileen Hansen 10,000."

That would seem to make Wiener the much stronger candidate going into the fall.

But there’s another key factor here: turnout. Low-turnout races are mostly (not always, but mostly) better for the more conservative candidate, and in this case, the turnout was really low. Just 32 percent of the voters went to the polls.

Let’s take a look at the 2002 election, the last time we had an open seat in D 8 with a progressive and a moderate running. In the general election in November, progressive Eileen Hansen came in first, with 9,820 votes to Bevan Dufty’s 8,795. But another progressive, Tom Radulovich was also in the race, and this was before ranked-choice voting. Radulovich got 5,221 votes, the majority of which probably would have gone to Hansen.

Turnout was a little over 50 percent.

In the runoff, in December, turnout dropped to 38.8 percent. Dufty got 11,096 votes, and Hansen 9,995. You could argue that most of the Radulovich votes went to Dufty -- possible -- but more likely, in the runoff, the more liberal voters who had come out in November to vote for Gray Davis for governor and also voted for Hansen just stayed home in December.

And this fall, Wiener will be more in the position that Hansen was in: There’s a third candidate in the race, Rebecca Prozan, and she’s more likely to take votes from Wiener than from Mandelman. And, of course, there’s RCV this time around -- and with two gay men and a lesbian in the race, nobody really knows how the second-choice votes will play out.

Daly plays with the turnout numbers:

For the sake of argument, let’s concede that Mandelman starts out 1000-1400 votes behind Wiener among the 11,000 or so District 8 Democrats who voted for DCCC last week. Given that over 31,000 District 8 residents voted in the 2006 Supervisor race (in a contest that was not the most competitive,) we can assume that at least 20,000 additional people will vote this November. In a 2-person contest, Mandelman would need to win 53.5% of these votes in order to win. Given that less frequent voters trend significantly more progressive, and with the addition of Democratic Party branding and the weight of its mail program, 53.5% is almost assured.

Well, I dunno -- in 2002, with a contested governor's race and a contested D8 race, only 26,600 people voted, but it's safe to say the numbers will be well above 11,000. And it's not a two-person contest. But I think it's also safe to say that those higher-turnout voters are the votes most likely to swing toward Mandelman.  

Jim Stearns, a political consultant with long experience in San Francisco (and no candidate in the D8 race), has another interesting analysis he sent over to me:

"Mandelman’s strategy was to spend his limited resources as part of a team effort to maintain progressive leadership on the DCCC. In so doing, he focused more heavily on slate cards that went district-wide than on mailers in District 8 promoting his own candidacy.

 Wiener, on the other hand, abandoned his fellow moderates and spent his money mostly on his own candidacy. This shortsighted strategic blunder will be extremely costly for Wiener in November.

 The result? Wiener got more votes in District 8, but lost his bid to regain his position as chair of the DCCC. Mandelman got fewer votes, but has significantly increased his chances of winning the Democratic Party endorsement this November. That endorsement is worth far more than the mere 1,000 vote difference between Wiener and Mandelman today."

 

None of this means Walker will beat Kim and Sparks in November, or that Mandelman will beat Wiener and Prozan. It just means that I suspect the DCCC results don’t really say much about the relative strengths of any of the candidates when it comes to a focused, district-centered race in a high-turnout fall election.

I emailed Hogarth and ran the turnout argument by him. His response:

I tried to caution in my piece that there's only so much you can see in the numbers -- and that you're right; voter turnout in November will be a lot higher.  Maybe I should have made this a bigger point.  But progressives are deluding themselves if they think turnout will be as high as it was in November 2008.  And if I were Rafael, I would have reason to worry that Scott did so much better than me in D8.  Also keep in mind that, despite the drop-off of DCCC voters, 48% of people in D8 who participated in this election cast a ballot for Scott Wiener.

Correct -- turnout won’t be as high as it was in the presidential race. But it might very well be as high as it was in 2002, when there was a contested race for governor, as there will be this fall. Lots of Democratic candidates -- particularly Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris -- will be doing GOTV operations in the city, and while Newsom and Harris won’t be supporting Mandelman, I don’t think either of them will limit their turnout efforts to precincts that run toward Wiener. The more liberal dems who vote in November, the better Harris and Newsom do against Republicans; that’s what they care about.

There’s no question that Scott Wiener will be a formidable contender in November. He’s got money, he’s got Mark Leno, and he’s running in a district that has elected moderate gay men since the return of district elections. But it’s remarkable how well the progressives have done in swing districts of late (see: Eric Mar, John Avalos), and Mandelman will, as Daly says, be the consensus candidate of every progressive group in town. He’ll almost certainly have the Democratic Party -- which matters even more when Democrats at the top of the ticket are driving turnout. And he’ll have the same sort of boots on the ground that gave Mar a victory in a very tight race.

At this point, I think Mandelman and Wiener both have a shot at finishing first; it will probably be very close. And Rebecca Prozan runs third.

Oh, and the tenant measure? It lost because there wasn’t an effective campaign behind it. Tenant measures don’t automatically win in tenant-heavy San Francisco; time and again over the years we’ve seen that when there’s a measure that pushes the edge (and face it, I strongly supported Prop. F, but it was pushing the edge) and there’s landlord money against it, you need a full-scale concerted campaign for it. Progressives were paying a lot of attention to the DCCC, and to defeating Props. 16 and 17. Prop. F got lost. I’m not happy about that, but I’m not terribly surprised, either -- and I don’t think it means much in the long run.

Chris Daly went a bit too far attacking Hogarth for his connections to Mark Leno, who is a Wiener supporter, and suggesting that the folks at BeyondChron -- who are, after all, first and foremost tenant lawyers -- are going to be backing Scott Wiener in the fall. I don't see that happening; I can't imagine it happening. I just think they read a little too much into the DCCC results.