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  • Writer's pictureNewsmakers with JR

The Most Important Election Returns Number

A survey of strategists working on the Santa Barbara’s mayor’s race reveals near-unanimity of judgment about what it will take to win in the crowded field on Tuesday night: 28 percent.

“Twenty-eight percent is the magic number,” said the campaign manager for one Democratic contender.

In a field of three Democrats, one Republican and one independent, all running for a non-partisan office in a winner-take-all race, there are, of course, countless mathematical possibilities for how the five candidates might splinter the vote.

Campaign consultants who have spent months running political calculus scenarios for their clients, however, say it’s a safe bet that no one will win who doesn’t capture at least the beguiling 28 percent portion of the total.

Even at that, the possibility of two, or three, of the rivals running closely bunched at the top means that a few hundred, or even a few dozen or fewer, votes could decide the race – and extend the count for days.

“While 27 or 28 percent pretty much assures a win,” said a second campaign consultant, “I’m not sure anyone would be comfortable offering a number on how much of a lead one needs to win it.”

A couple of other takeaways for watching Election Night returns:

1-Turnout is critical.

In the last mayor’s race without an incumbent, in 2009, 49.5 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. The latest report, as of Monday morning, showed a total of 15,209 ballots already returned (8,319 Democratic; 3,502 Republican; 3,388 Decline-to-State independents and third parties) from among 48,527 registered voters.

This means that nearly one-third of eligible voters already have voted, hinting at a large, final turnout. High turnouts generally benefit Democrats; Cathy Murillo would be the biggest beneficiary of a very high turnout.

2-Hotchkiss needs to lead early returns.

The earliest ballots mailed in tend to be cast by conservative voters, so Republican council member Frank Hotchkiss must be leading when the first returns are announced around 8:30 p.m. in order to have a chance of prevailing; in fact, Hotchkiss almost certainly needs to lead wire-to-wire to become the next mayor.

3-If Conklin leads Murillo early on it could be a long night. Or a long week.

By around 10 p.m. it may begin to be clear whether it is a two-person (most likely: Murillo and Hotchkiss) or a three-person (add Hal Conklin - or Angel Martinez or Bendy White - to the mix) race. If Conklin, Martinez or White stays close to Murillo throughout the night, the election may not be decided on Tuesday night; it might require counting ballots that are postmarked in time, but not counted until later in the week.

4-Nobody knows nothin’.

Full disclosure: Your Newsmakers Santa Barbara Bureau Chief was among the global legions of political reporters who whiffed on the Clinton-Trump presidential race, suffering a severe failure of imagination that did not allow for the cognitive possibility that The Donald could become our 45th president. So: no big surprise if the conventional wisdom ends up wrong and Martinez or White confounds everyone.

5-Where to watch.

If you don't feel like trekking to City Hall to watch returns come in live, or to one of the candidate parties around town, I’ll be on the set talking election returns on Tuesday night at 10 p.m. on KKFX (Channel 11) and at 11 p.m. on KEYT (Channel 3).

Election shocker. Mega-kudos to Alice San Andres-Calleja, Publisher/Editor of The Mesa Paper, and one of Santa Barbara’s leading Civic Saints, for a) organizing with her neighborhood partners the final candidates’ forum in the mayor’s race and b) swiftly turning around a new edition of the paper with full coverage of the event.

For those who still haven’t decided how to vote, the November edition of TMS, now available in coffee shops, libraries and other public places from Goleta to Carp, is a valuable resource.

One of the more intriguing aspects of the paper’s coverage of the Oct. 30 event is that it contains written answers from Frank Hotchkiss, even though Frank didn’t show up for the forum (“I am going to very few forums,” he said, by way of explanation).

Alice told me that after the event, she asked all the candidates to send her written versions of their responses to 19 questions (!!!) they were asked at the live event, which drew about 60 people to the Free Methodist Church on Cliff Drive. All of the attendees, except Angel, complied, while Hotchkiss, who ditched the event, sent in written answers after the fact.

Including one that seems more than a bit…strange. Here’s how it read as published in The Mesa Paper.

"1-Have any candidates accepted developers' contributions? If so, how much have you received and are you willing to return it and make a pledge not to accept developers' money six months prior to any future election?"


"Frank Hotchkiss: Would you call Michael Towbes a developer? If so, in the past I have accepted his donations, and would continue to do so in the future."

Where to start?

Let’s stipulate that the late Mr. Towbes was many things – a great philanthropist, a hugely successful entrepreneur, an eminent community banker – and one of the most successful real estate developers in California history. So yes, Frank, we would “call Michael Towbes a developer.”

Which raises a second, far more difficult, question:

How, exactly, does Frank intend “to continue” to receive campaign contributions from him, given that, as was, um, widely reported, the late Mr. Towbes died last April 13, at the age of 87, and then received a spectacular send-off in the form of a community celebration of his life on May 23 at the Granada Theatre?

Inquiring minds want to know.

We asked Hotchkiss to explain his odd comment via email:

Two questions: 1) do you know something the rest of us do not? 2) Are you planning to run for mayor of Heaven?

So far: radio silence. Will advise.

Public service message. Your mail-in ballot must be postmarked by November 7, Election Day, in order to count. You also may drop off your ballot on Tuesday at City Hall or at three other locations listed on the city’s website here.

Don’t forget to vote.


Images:; Election night 2016/New York Daily News; The Mesa Paper nameplate; Frank Hotchkiss (Paul Wellman/Independent; Granada Theatre marquee on day of Michael Towbes memorial celebration (Paul Wellman/Independent).

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