Dan Walters

Dan Walters: California Democrats fare poorly in two elections

Dan Walters
Dan Walters

So perhaps Democrats aren’t quite as omnipotent in California politics as they – and almost everyone else – assumed.

Republican Kevin Faulconer blew away three Democratic rivals in the San Diego mayoral race this week, and Nathan Fletcher, the Republican-turned-Democrat that most of the party’s leaders had endorsed, ran a rather miserable third.

Faulconer is now the favorite to capture the top position in the state’s second largest city in a runoff early next year with fellow City Councilman David Alvarez, who was supported by San Diego’s more liberal Democratic groups.

It’s not a slam dunk by any means, but disgraced former Mayor Bob Filner sullied the local Democratic brand and the fragmentation of local Democrats and their post-election blame game give Faulconer a decided edge going into the runoff campaign.

Meanwhile, 125 miles north of San Diego, in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, an Assembly district with a 2-1 Democratic voter registration advantage may be on the verge of electing a Republican in a low-turnout special election.

Republican Susan Shelley trailed Democrat Matt Dababneh by just 171 votes on Thursday, giving her a good shot at an upset as 2,000-plus provisional and late mail ballots are counted in the 45th Assembly District.

The district became vacant when Democrat Bob Blumenfield resigned to become a Los Angeles city councilman, and the race in the strongly Democratic district appeared to be over when Dababneh defeated three other Democrats in the first round of voting to win a spot in this week’s runoff.

Dababneh is a top aide to Rep. Brad Sherman, while Shelley is an author and publisher who was given little chance of winning and spent almost nothing on her campaign.

Although Republicans used to hold a number of San Fernando Valley seats, one by one they’ve shifted to Democrats over the last two decades as the region’s socio-economic makeup changed dramatically.

A key factor in the potential upset is an extremely low voter turnout.

The district has more than a quarter-million registered voters, but scarcely 10percent of them cast ballots – not surprising, given the low-profile nature of the race and the widespread belief that Dababneh was a surefire winner.

Should he wind up a loser, Democrats likely would still have – barely – a two-thirds supermajority in the Assembly but it would diminish the party’s ability to use that power to do things that require two-thirds votes, such as raise taxes or place constitutional amendments on the ballot.

Even if Dababneh ekes out a win, what happened Tuesday in both San Diego and Los Angeles should be a reminder to California Democratic leaders that voter turnouts are weak, and with ever-more voters becoming independents with fickle tendencies, nothing can be taken for granted.