At first glance, a Republican has exactly two chances of capturing the top job at Santa Barbara City Hall: minuscule and microscopic.
The laws of arithmetic, as set forth in the California Secretary of State's most recent Report of Registration show that:
A) the GOP has barely one-third the total number of voters in Santa Barbara as the local Democratic party and; B) Republicans are merely the third-largest voting bloc in the city, mirroring their decline statewide:
Voting Group Voters Percent
Democrats 25,676 52.9%
Decline-to-State 11,735 24.1
Republicans 8,665 17.8
Third Parties 2,451 5.0
Total 48,527 99.8 (rounding).
However, the special circumstances of the 2017 election - a five candidate field with three well-known Democrats competing in what is certain to be a very low turnout contest - means that council member Frank Hotchkiss, the only Republican running, starts with a fair chance to upset the conventional wisdom.
A back of the envelope calculation:
Assume, based on history, that one-third of those registered actually send in ballots in the all-mail election, for a universe of about 16,000 voters;
Recall that this is a winner-take-all affair, with no run-off, meaning the first-place finisher could win with one-third, or even less, of the total vote amid five rivals, making his or her magic number approximately 4,000 ballots;
Bear in mind that Republicans, who trend older, traditionally are far more dependable voters in this kind of low-profile election.
So if Hotchkiss consolidates the GOP vote with a smart and well-organized campaign operation, it may be him on the dais next January, accepting the gavel from Mayor Helene. Tyler Hayden, who's covering the race for the Independent, drilled down on the possibility in a recent smart piece:
Nevertheless, Hotchkiss’s Republican allies are bullish on his chances. “People are underestimating the support Frank has from pro-business Democrats and Independents,” said Mike Stoker of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. “I think he’s well on his way to becoming mayor.”
State Street matters. While Stoker measures the drapes for Frank, however, there's one big obstacle to scramble his rosy scenario: Angel Martinez.
Angel, the former Deckers Outdoor Corp. CEO and Reebok senior executive, is running as a Decline-to-State independent (brief digression: Martinez was a longtime Democrat who previously tweet-attacked Trump and donated about $5K to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, but changed his registration to Decline to State for the mayor's race; in the course of doing so, he briefly registered with the right-wing American Independent Party, founded by the late segregationist George Wallace, because, you know, "independent," then quickly caught and fixed the mistake. So there's that).
So far, he is outflanking Hotchkiss on the political right on homelessness, loudly vowing to crack down on aggressive panhandling by the "lifestyle homeless," i.e. able-bodied young men, on State Street, a top issue for retail merchants and other business types.
Bad omen for Frank: Martinez already swiped the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce endorsement, a big deal that should have been a natural for Hotchkiss.
P.S. Check out our half-hour "Newsmakers" interviews with all five candidates right here.
(Hotchkiss photo credit: Paul Wellman SB Independent)