Republicans are poised to take the first step toward reclaiming the San Diego mayor's office Tuesday, a year after they lost city hall in America's eighth-largest city and three months after Democratic Mayor Bob Filner resigned in disgrace.
Should Republican City Councilman and centrist Kevin Faulconer finish first or second in the eight-candidate, nonpartisan primary and then go on to win the subsequent runoff, Republicans from California to Washington will be cheering.
Not only would they have recaptured a significant city hall — San Diego is the second-largest city in the Golden State — but the GOP would have won the last major election contest of 2013.
According to a just-completed UT San Diego/Channel 10 News Poll, Faulconer tops the field with 40 percent of the vote. Coming in second in the poll with 24 percent is long-presumed front-runner Nathan Fletcher, a Republican-turned-independent-turned Democrat.
Those poll numbers were particularly embarrassing to Fletcher, a moderate Republican state assemblyman who jumped to independent to run for mayor last year. He placed third behind Republican Carl DeMaio and eventual winner Filner.
Rounding out the poll results were City Councilman David Alvarez (22 percent) and former City Attorney Mike Aguirre (7 percent). Both are Democrats and considered from the "far left" or "progressive" wing of their party.
Faulconer's political muscle comes in large part from uniting much of San Diego's business community and Republican Party behind him. Although Faulconer is a Republican and party leaders back him, the mayoral contest technically is nonpartisan.
Shortly after Filner resigned in late August after revelations of widespread misconduct toward women, about 30 business leaders met at the home of Tom Sudberry, past chairman of the influential Lincoln Club, a group of primarily center-right business people.
When the group agreed to support Faulconer for mayor, other Republicans, such as 2012 hopeful DeMaio, stood down. Libertarian Republican DeMaio now is considered a cinch to run for Congress in 2014.
In striking contrast, San Diego Democrats never could rally behind a single candidate. Disliked intensely by many of his former fellow Republicans, newly minted Democrat Fletcher never won the trust of the far left in his new political home.
The local AFL-CIO, for example, strongly endorsed Alvarez, an outspoken opponent of pension reforms, which would have public employees pay a greater share of benefits similar to those that have been implemented by Republican governors in Michigan and Wisconsin.
The more-moderate Fletcher says he opposes such reforms but would support them as a "last resort."
Fletcher's dilemma is not unlike that of the last two Republican members of Congress who switched to the Democratic Party.
On becoming Democrats, Rep. Michael P. Forbes of New York and the late Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania both faced primary opposition that highlighted some of their not-so-liberal votes while they were Republicans.
Both Forbes and Specter were defeated for nomination in their first races as Democrats.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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