Democrat David Alvarez unexpectedly placed second in Tuesday's mayoral contest, knocking out a candidate long considered a cinch to be one of the top vote-getters, and will join Republican Kevin Faulconer in a run-off early next year.
Although many point to Alvarez's support from key union leaders for his advancing past former state legislator Nathan Fletcher, who had placed second in nearly every poll, other observers in San Diego credit anti-Fletcher TV spots that featured zombies.
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That's right. Zombies.
The mindless creatures featured in horror productions, from George Romero's 1968 cult classic "Night of the Living Dead" to the current hit AMC TV series "Walking Dead," were unleashed in independent commercials underscoring Fletcher's change of positions as he continually changed party affiliations, switching in earlier races from Republican to independent to Democrat.
"Nathan Fletcher courted the tea party with anti-immigrant rhetoric, but then he switched his principles when he ran for mayor," said the narration to the ad, as a hoard of zombies lumber Frankenstein-style at dusk.
"He bashed labor unions and supported pension reform, but then he switched his principles again. Now he's against pension reform and supports spending billions – but wait! He's switching again!"
Finally, an exasperated zombie declares: "This guy keeps switching his principles – on every issue! I can't keep mindlessly following Nathan Fletcher! And I'm mindless!"
The commercials were paid for by an independent expenditure known as "Zombies for Responsible Government." They began airing online on, appropriately, on Halloween.
"We only spent $1,800 on pre-roll ads on Youtube to launch it, but once Twitter lit it up, the paid media was practically irrelevant," explained veteran California media maestro Wayne Johnson
. "The real definition of virality is when an ad skips channels – crosses over into other media, in this case radio and television. Every station in San Diego did lengthy segments on 'Zombies' and showed the ad, often several times."
Johnson credits the success of the zombies spot to their unique flavor.
"San Diego is a very conventional media market, particularly in politics. Most of the spots are 'talking heads' and endorsements, with very few campaigns using media platforms as robustly as they might," Johnson told Newsmax.
The results speak for themselves.
In every poll conducted right up to Halloween, Fletcher always placed a strong second behind Falconer and ran ahead of fellow Democrat Alvarez. According to a UT San Diego/Channel 10 News Poll conducted just as the zombie spots began, Faulconer topped the field of candidates with 41 percent of the vote. Coming in second with 28 percent was Fletcher, and fellow Democrat Alvarez was at 17 percent.
In the same survey completed on the Sunday before the voting, Falconer was at 40 percent, Fletcher had fallen down to 24 percent, and Alvarez rose to 22 percent.
On Election Day, Falconer secured first place with 43.58 percent. But it was Alvarez who eked out second place with 25.59 percent to 24.3 percent for Fletcher.
Fletcher lost the run-off position by less than 3,000 votes.
"While Nathan Fletcher's drop in the polls seemed to mirror the run of 'Zombies,' the fact is that there were several very well-run campaigns going on," said Johnson. "In that sense, I think 'Zombies' was a catalyst. It seemed to turn Nathan from the Teflon candidate into the Velcro candidate. Everything started to stick."
"Ironically, the Zombies never actually took a position on any issue, other than the flipping on issues itself," Johnson said.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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