The Coveted Newsmakers Campaign Awards
Amid the Kabuki dance of toting up provisional ballots, the candidates who actually put themselves and their names on the line by now have proffered speeches of triumph or endured the agonies of defeat.
So it's time to open the envelopes and recognize some key players whose names were not on the ballot but who, for better or for worse, performed crucial roles in shaping the results of Tuesday's primary:
The Richard Daley Political Boss Award
Winner: Cathy Murillo.
Desperate to elect an acolyte, or at least an ally, to the remainder of her council term in District 3, Mayor Cathy pushed, pulled, tugged, heaved and dragged Oscar Gutierrez into the winner’s circle. She paved the way for his Democratic endorsement, filled up his campaign treasury and even walked the Westside door-to-door alone when Big O was otherwise occupied, and it all paid off with a big win for her hand-picked novice - although channeling her inner Ward Heeler also meant our 28 percent Alcadesa squandered political capital that might better have been spent on building up her cred as leader of the entire city, instead of just playing to her political base.
Loser: Jason Dominguez.
Chastened Jason, Cathy’s chief City Hall rival, went all in for Michael Vidal, Oscar’s strongest foe, providing his endorsement, walking precincts and even recording a robocall in the final stretch for the indefatigable financial consultant.
In the end, it was for naught, and now Dominguez will be left trying to cash loser’s tickets at the winner’s window, although he still get points for having the cojones to show up at the Democratic victory party, where Oscar was being feted and where Jason audaciously posed for pictures next to Cathy.
The Dick Tuck Political Operative Award
Winner: Mary Rose.
The veteran Dem strategist got blindsided, and lost her biggest client of the campaign season, when Susan Epstein stunned the world by abruptly quitting the race to succeed Supervisor Janet Wolf, but soldiered on to steer a couple of Tuesday night's world beaters, including Oscar, to the winner's circle. Her generalship also shone through in Betsy Shaffer's stomping of Jen Christensen in the Auditor-Controller's race, which surprised many prognosticators (we name no names), and though her guy Brian Olmstead failed to force Sheriff Bill Brown into a run-off, that had mostly to do with Deputy Brian having no rationale for his candidacy that Actual Voters cared about.
Loser: Brett Foreman.
A Bay Area software maven and UCSB bro of Vidal's, Foreman showed up to manage the campaign gratis, and to show the rubes how it's done, boasting online that he was “looking at data, leveraging modern marketing methodologies, and avoiding legacy campaign technologies in ways (the establishment's candidates) don't.” Vidal to his credit worked hard walking door-to-door, but also wasted time arguing with people on Facebook, proving anew the Angel Martinez Principle – in Santa Barbara politics, a field operation beats social media every time.
The JFK "Image is Everything" Award
Winner: Austin Stukins.
Two years ago, Republican congressional wannabe Justin Fareed often seemed to simmer with anger and routinely wear a scowl, as he snarled at reporters while delivering campaign bromides in a tone that sounded as if he was ordering voters to eat their peas. Under the tutelage of new manager Stukins, Young Justin has undergone a political makeover and his presentations during several KEYT interviews at his victory party were marked by sunniness and a smile.
Loser: Salud's Media Posse.
On Election Day, Democratic incumbent Rep. Salud Carbajal showed up at Dem campaign headquarters at 5 a.m. to wish the foot soldiers well before hopping on a plane back to D.C., and ended a long day by capturing a creditworthy 53 percent of the vote. As returns came in, he could be excused for not being on the scene, but there was no excuse for the hostage video his handlers served up to KEYT for his reaction comments, a pre-recorded, blurry recitation of bromides about bipartisanship that looked like it was made while he was locked in a mop closet; it terrified voters up and down the Central Coast, as Salud's head loomed the shape and size of a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon that seemed on the verge of popping through the screen.
The LBJ "Tax and Spend" Award
Winner: Ethan Bertrand.
Ethan, best known as the target in the cell phone video of a vicious homophobic State Street rant by ex-IV landlord James Gelb, also is board president of the IV Community Services District, and led the campaign for Measure R, a utility tax surcharge to provide a stream of revenue for IV's mostly unfunded first-ever governance district. Some political professionals thought it a mistake to put a two-thirds vote requirement tax on the ballot in a primary election, when conservative voters turn out more reliably than libs, but Bertrand helped spearhead an organizational effort that won a smashingly successful 83 percent of the vote.
Loser: IV landlords.
The small network of IV's often absentee apartment owners, who love to cash in by stuffing 47 students into cell-sized rooms, fiercely opposed Measure R under the banner of “Isla Vistans Against Higher Taxes,” but their “R Means Rent” warning that the tax hike of about 28 bucks a year would pass through directly to tenants was shrugged off by the people who actually live there. They’ll no doubt now move to make good on the threat, but with a statewide pro-rent control initiative headed for the November ballot, they might want to think carefully about how much more ill will they engender.
The "Party’s Not Over" Partisanship Award:
Winners and Losers (Tie): Democrats and Republicans.
We hate on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-editorializing even more than horse poop. but there’s no way to avoid concluding that Democrats and Republicans alike found both celebration and sadness in Tuesday’s results.
The Dems headed off nightmare scenarios of being frozen out of the November ballot in three key GOP-held House seats they need to win amid their national campaign to flip 23 and take back one house of Congress.
Less happily, however, abysmal voter turnout scarcely suggests a “blue wave” election is coming in the fall. Latino voters stayed away in droves from backing the lame bids of Antonio Villaraigosa for governor and Kevin de Leon for Senate, as Trump’s endorsement of John Cox proved enough to push the carpetbagger businessman into a sacrificial lamb run-off against Gavin Newsom, D-Oleaginous, which will goose GOP turnout at least a bit.
Republicans meanwhile suffered the ignominy of plunging into third place in the voter bloc standings, leaving poor Ronald Reagan to spin in his tomb at the spectacle of the GOP in his beloved California becoming less popular than, gasp, Decline-to-State.
While they failed to shut out Democrats in any of the seven House battleground races, Republicans flexed their muscle by recalling Orange County freshman Democrat state Senator Josh Newman, who cast a decisive vote in favor of the 2016 $5 billion state gas tax increase earmarked for road and highway repairs, a possible omen for November, when the GOP will crusade for a full-blown gas tax repeal ballot measure, giving their dwindling band of partisans yet another reason to vote.
Only 153 days until the next election!
Images: Dreamstime.com; Jason Dominguez (R) grins at the Democratic victory celebration while standing next to arch-enemy Cathy Murillo, who stomped him in the District 3 proxy war (Josh Molina); Mary Rose (Earl Warren Showgrounds); Charlie Brown balloon (Daily Mail UK.com); Ethan Bertrand (Paul Wellman); Image from New York Magazine; the late President Ronald Reagan (realclearpolitics.com).