Updated 1:40 p.m. Wednesday with an additional statement from San Diego Republican Party Chairman Tony Krvaric.
Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher announced Wednesday that he is leaving the Republican Party and will register as an independent, a move a Republican Party official characterized as an "act of desperation."
The San Diego mayoral candidate said it's a decision he's "been struggling with for some time."
“This is a decision I have struggled with my entire time in elected office,” Fletcher said from a press conference in front of the USS Midway on Wednesday morning.
Fletcher—who is running in the mayoral race against San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio, Rep. Bob Filner and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis— said he realizes he might lose supporters, but that nothing in his core beliefs has changed.
He said the “people’s interest will be my interest, and not what some party insider would want me to do.”
“When you have an environment and system that is set up to reward the two-party system—it is a difficult thing to do. But I believe in my heart it is the right thing. I believe it is what is needed for San Diego and for our city.”
Fletcher said he wants the voters of San Diego to have a mayor that is focused on the issues, focused on doing what is right, and willing to work with anyone regardless of party.
Fletcher, who has represented the 75th Assembly District—which includes La Jolla, Rancho Bernardo and Poway—since 2008, said he has a long track record of being an independent voice.
“There are things I agree with Republicans on—more fiscal issues. There are things I agree with the Democrats on—more of the commitment to the environment, equal rights and protection for all people regardless of sexual orientation. There are issues where I am somewhere in-between," Fletcher said. “The main difference I have with partisan politics is a focus on being willing to sit down and work with people in good faith.”
Fletcher's decision comes about two weeks after the .
Tony Krvaric, chairman of the Republican Party of San Diego, questioned Fletcher's motives in a series of tweets Wednesday morning, stating, "Today proves that the @RPSDC endorsement of @carldemaio was the right one. The committee chose wisely. #actofdesperation #sdmayor. ...Hrm... Was @nathanfletcher sincere a few weeks ago when he sought the @rpsdc endorsement or is he sincere today?"
Later, the party released a statement from Krvaric, who said Fletcher is just scrambling because he's behind in the polls:
It’s never pretty to watch a panicking politician, but that’s what we saw with Nathan Fletcher today.
Now, running dead last for San Diego Mayor, and after having raised as much Republican money as he can, Fletcher is trying to hide from his conservatism and partisan Republican record to reinvent himself as something else.
Nathan Fletcher running for office as an independent is about as credible as Rick Santorum trying to run as a Green Party candidate.
In another statement, Krvaric said Fletcher can't be trusted, adding that leaving the Republican Party "is all about his own personal ambition for higher office, nothing more."
Fletcher has been trailing DeMaio and Filner in polls from U-T San Diego, Competitive Edge Research and SurveyUSA for 10News, though just last week the candidate was celebrating raising nearly $1 million as a sign of growing momentum in his campaign.
DeMaio, in a statement, said he's been able to fight against insiders while receiving support from all parties.
From my time as a watchdog who helped uncover the city’s financial problems to my leadership on ending sweetheart deals at City Hall, I have taken on powerful insiders from both political parties to fight for reform on behalf of taxpayers.
That’s why my campaign has attracted the broadest and deepest level of support from Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike—and I look forward to reaching across all political parties to finish the job of reform.
Rancho Bernardo Patch Editor Shauntel Lowe contributed to this report.