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  • Writer's pictureNewsmakers with JR

3 Big Keys to Monday's Mayor's Race Forum

On Monday night, you can catch the five candidates for mayor of Santa Barbara on the same stage, at the campaign’s second major public forum.

The event, co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Santa Barbara, the First United Methodist Church and TV Santa Barbara, is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m., at the church, 305 East Anapamu Street.

At post time, Angel Martinez, Bendy White, Cathy Murillo, Frank Hotchkiss and Hal Conklin all were expected to attend the non-partisan League forum.

Five weeks before the Nov. 7 election – and just one week before mail-in ballots are sent out – the crowded contest remains fluid, so the affair offers the rivals both opportunities and risks to break through at a time when voters may just be tuning in.

Here are three critical questions to keep in mind as you watch the candidates’ performances, either live or later, on a broadcast on TVSB, our home turf studio.

Which Democrat will emerge?

The critical political problem for Conklin, Murillo and White is that they all are liberal Democrats (in what, of course, is purportedly a non-partisan race) with only a few significant differences among them.

The danger for the three is that even with Democrats dominating the electorate, they could split their party’s vote, and allow one of the more conservative candidates to scoot into the mayor’s office.

Murillo is running with the local party endorsement, and she is far ahead of the other two in fundraising, but decades of community engagement by Conklin, plus his Lois Capps endorsement, and by White, who enjoys the enthusiastic support of Mayor Helene Schneider, pose problems for her in predominating in the Democratic vote.

Can Angel acquire the mantle of change?

Martinez is the buzz candidate in this race, the only one in the field whose career and professional experience is dramatically different than the others, who are steeped in City Hall politics and policies.

At the last forum on housing, however, Martinez hunkered down deep in the weeds with the others on details and nuance; sure, it demonstrated he can hold his own on policy, but it also seemed to stifle a more aggressive effort to define the election as change vs. more of the same.

On a strategic matter, Martinez has done well in collecting major financial and political support in the business community that on the natural should have belonged to Hotchkiss, the only Republican in the contest; as Saturday’s anti-tax rally showed, however, Frank still has the strong support of less centrist, more partisan Republicans, so registered independent Martinez risks over-reaching if he keeps banging away at the conservative vote. With the three Dems trying to out-lefty each other, he’d do well to occupy a lot of space around the political center.

Will anybody commit a blooper?

As a general matter, close debate watchers (yeah, we know it’s a forum, not technically a debate) tend to be voters who already have made up their minds about a candidate, or are at least leaning towards one and so it is unusual for one event to prove determinative in a campaign.

With two big exceptions.

When a candidate commits a blunder or a serious gaffe – think Dan Quayle comparing himself to John F. Kennedy in 1988 – or delivers a devastating counter-punch – like Ronald Reagan’s “there you go again” put-down of Jimmy Carter in 1980 – the post-debate coverage and popular discussion becomes more important than the actual event, and can cement impressions of the candidates.

I’m too old to write about the forum on deadline – in my view, the hardest story a political reporter is required to cover – so we’ll leave that one to our friend Josh Molina over at Noozhawk.

Rest assured, however, that we’ll be back later in the week with another mordant, if not trenchant, review of the performance of each of the candidates.

Hey, somebody’s gotta do it.


Images: League of Women Voters logo; Dem vs. Dem; every networking party ever; former vice-president Dan Quayle, seconds after being stunned by a debate comeback by Senator Lloyd Bentsen, after the former tried to compare himself to John F. Kennedy.

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