Though early returns of absentee ballots put Councilman Kevin Faulconer in the driver's seat for the Feb. 11 runoff election for San Diego mayor, the race will be close, according to a study released Monday.
A strong Democratic turnout on Election Day will be needed for his opponent, Councilman David Alvarez, to win, said Vince Vasquez, author of the report for the National University System Institute for Policy Research, a San Diego-based think tank.
He based his conclusion on data gathered from the November special election, in which Faulconer gained the most votes and Alvarez nosed out Nathan Fletcher, and compared them with returns of absentee ballots for the second round of voting.
Political observers have suggested the mayor's race would come down to how many voters Alvarez's candidacy could draw to the polls on Election Day and how many Fletcher voters would opt for Faulconer.
According to Vasquez, increases in the rate of mail ballot returns as of Jan. 31 were greater in precincts that favored Faulconer and Fletcher in November than in neighborhoods that supported Alvarez.
The uptick is more than 10,000 in Faulconer and Fletcher precincts and nearly 6,800 in Alvarez areas, he said.
Also, about 49 percent of GOP ballots were already returned by year's end, compared to 36 percent for Democrats and 28 percent of independents. However, more Democratic ballots overall have been sent back to the county Registrar of Voters office.
Vasquez said those numbers favor Faulconer because of Republican enthusiasm, and because many San Diego Democrats are fiscally conservative and willing to vote GOP in local elections.
"For now, Faulconer is leading early voting in the mayoral election," Vasquez said. "Still, there are thousands more votes to be cast, and nearly 30 percent of all ballots are expected to be cast on Election Day. Regardless of the winner, we anticipate a close election."
He noted that Alvarez has already proven he can generate a large Election Day turnout. In November, Fletcher gained over 500 more absentee votes than Alvarez, but Alvarez collected about 8,000 more votes at polling places.
On the campaign trail, Faulconer trumpeted the support of local women, among them ex-10News anchor Carol LeBeau; Sharon Cloward, president of the San Diego Port Tenants Association; and Jacque Young, wife of former City Council President Tony Young.
Alvarez said he would create a Veterans Affairs position in the mayor's office to provide support for former members of the military who are remaining in San Diego as they make the transition to civilian life.
—City News Service