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San Diego County has historically been one of the most conservative parts of both California and the West Coast. With large populations of retirees, military veterans, active duty Navy men and women, and a generally wealthy populace, conditions for the GOP's success have long been right in San Diego County. San Diego County's economy has traditionally been strong, with employers like Qualcomm providing well paying jobs for thousands of San Diegans.
While most large, American cities are safely Democratic in mayoral, statewide, and federal elections, San Diego was long a competitive city in all three categories. Unlike most cities, a substantial percentage of San Diego is incorporated suburban areas, and these suburban areas have grown rapidly since the 1960s. In fact, the Coastal San Diego County and southern Orange County Congressional district had more than doubled in population since the previous census and was the largest Congressional district in the country in 1972.
Rapid growth in the 1970s and 1980s brought droves of Midwestern Republicans who sought San Diego's economic prosperity, cultural vibrancy, and its favorable climate.
Below is a chart that shows San Diego County's Presidential election results from 1972-2012. The county was heavily Republican, especially compared to the country as a whole, between 1972 and 1988.
San Diego County began to trend Democratic in the 1990s, but still voted well to the right of the country, albeit decreasingly so, up until 2008 when it voted to the left of the country for the first time since FDR's third reelection campaign in 1944. Hispanic growth in the county, along with decreasing Republican margins in many of San Diego's suburbs and a Democratic trend in culturally liberal and fiscally conservative northern San Diego has, at least on a Presidential level, made the county a swing county that has voted about a point to the left of the country in the past two Presidential elections.
San Diego County is still solidly Republican, and is generally expected to remain so, in midterm and local countywide elections. However, the days of San Diego County being strongly Republican in Presidential years for federal elections are over.
Geographic Breakdown of San Diego County
This map of the regions of San Diego County from UCSD is nearly perfect, in my opinion.
The most problematic regions for the GOP have been the South Bay and Central County (or urbanized San Diego). Chula Vista and Imperial Beach, both in the South Bay, were once GOP strongholds, but booming Hispanic populations have shifted them quickly away from the GOP over the past decade. The South Bay's San Diegan neighborhoods have also grown in population, and citizenship percentages have risen as undocumented immigrants have had children who have begun to vote. The South Bay, with a historically large Hispanic population, has sent a Democrat to Congress for decades.
Central San Diego used to be politically competitive, but has become strongly Democratic on a federal and Presidential level in recent years. The right Republican running in a local election can come close to winning, if not actually winning, Central San Diego (as ex-Mayor Jerry Sanders, who served from 2005-2013, may have done). Still, Central San Diego used to elect Republicans to Congress as recently as 1998. Those days are long gone.
In 1994, Republican Brian Bilbray, the former Mayor of the City of Imperial Beach in South County and a then-San Diego County Councilmember, defeated Democratic freshman Congresswoman Lynn Schenk in a largely Central San Diego-based, politically competitive district. Bilbray, a talented surfer who initially became interested and involved in politics when he helped fight an eminent domain plan in Imperial Beach back in the 1970s, was seen as a center-right Republican willing to cross the aisle, especially on environmental issues. Come 2000, Central San Diego had become far more Democratic than it was in 1994 and Bilbray lost to then-Assemblywoman Susan Davis. From then on, San Diego County would sent two Democrats to the US House until 2013.
East County is almost Arizona. It's full of retirees, has a large military veteran population, has a moderately large LDS population by Californian standards, has a desert climate, and is a golfer's paradise. Many of San Diego's most conservative residents naturally gravitate to the Arizona-style lifestyle of East County. Still, the edges of East County closest to the city, such as the cities of Lemon Grove and La Mesa, have gone from being Republican-leaning in the 1990s to being swingy in the early-to-mid-2000s to being solidly Democratic in 2008 and 2012. The outer parts of East County are still solidly Republican, but the margins put up there are just not as large as they used to be back in the 1980s and 1990s.
Coastal North County, which was barely inhabited until the 1950s, is home to the Oceanside, Carlsbad, Solana Beach, Del Mar, and northern portions of the City of San Diego. The San Diegan portions will be discussed later in this article. Wealthy Solana Beach and Del Mar have, at least since 2000, been Democratic-leaning. Del Mar in particular is highly affluent and has an almost Malibu-like feel to it. Home to many modern homes and a generally fiscally moderate-to-moderately conservative and socially highly liberal population, Del Mar actually gave Mitt Romney a stronger performance than it gave George W. Bush in 2004.
Solana Beach and Del Mar are politically stable, but Oceanside, Carlsbad, and Encinitas have trended leftward since the 1990s, a time when Oceanside and Carlsbad were heavily conservative and Encinitas leaned to the right. Oceanside and Carlsbad are to the south of Camp Pendleton, and Oceanside in particular is a Naval town (although they both distinctly are). Blocks upon blocks of small, Navy-built homes line the coastal streets of Oceanside and Carlsbad. The coastal areas of these towns have become far more Hispanic in recent years and far more Democratic as multi-family homes were built in the 2000s. Inland portions of Carlsbad and Encinitas tend to, counterintuitively until one visits these Coastal North County, be whiter and more conservative than the coastal portions, but cheap housing built for military men and multi-family housing near the tracks of the Coaster commuter rail train have allowed for a Democratic shift as Carlsbad and Oceanside have grown. Oceanside and Carlsbad have, unfortunately, also had growing gang and drug-related crime rates in the past decade.
The northern half of Inland North County is dominated by the Cities of Escondido, San Marcos, and Vista. Escondido in particular has some heavily Republican areas that are a lot like East County, but also has some poor areas that are heavily Democratic. It still leans Republican on a whole, but Romney couldn't come close to matching George W. Bush's 2004 performance (a pattern matched across East and North Counties). Vista also has some wealthier developments. Vista and San Marcos are both largely middle class and lean Republican, but San Marcos in particular has a booming Hispanic population and is trending away from the GOP.
San Diego itself is heavily Democratic, with John McCain and Mitt Romney both registering performances in the mid-30% range. However, San Diego County Republicans have traditionally been seen as more pragmatic than national Republicans by many San Diego moderate Democrats and independents who normally vote Democratic for federal and statewide elections. Additionally, San Diego Republicans are viewed as a more competent at governing by many of these same moderate Democrats and independents who normally vote Democratic for federal and statewide elections. Politics in San Diego have a north and south split, with Republicans running or city or citywide performing strongly in the northern portion of the city. Local Republicans with moderate profiles often run 10-15%, if not slightly more, in many of the city's northern, suburban portions. Northern San Diegans, especially in La Jolla, feel as if the city uses their tax money exclusively to help fix the problems of the city's urban core. Many of the residents of the city's northern, suburban portions want, at the least, more local control and local spending of their tax money or even secession from the City of San Diego.
The rest of San Diego County, part of California's 52nd Congressional district, will be discussed when the 52nd Congressional district is analyzed.
The 2001 California Redistricting Process and Brian Bilbray's Reemergence
In 2002, the Democratic controlled California State Legislature crafted and passed a redistricting proposal that added a new district, force one Republican Congressman into retirement, and protected the rest of the state's powerful Congressional delegation. Democrats could have gerrymandered Republicans into oblivion in many of the state's regions, but the legislature chose to instead value many of the state's Republicans' seniority, especially considering that, in those days, members of both parties were proud of bringing back federal money (albeit for different purposes). The plan worked, considering that only one district featured a party switch between 2002 and 2010 and only one incumbent was defeated for reelection.
Democrats protected Republican Duke Cunningham's 50th Congressional district by packing Susan Davis' 53rd district with as many Democrats as possible. The 53rd district picked up University City, which contains UCSD and its professors which, amongst other redistricting decisions, immensely protected Cunningham.
Duke Cunningham resigned from the US House of Representatives in December of 2005 after pleading guilty to accepting $2.4 million in bribes. In a contentious special primary, ex-Rep Brian Bilbray, who declared residency at his mother's home in Carlsbad, returned from a lobbying job in DC and narrowly won the Republican nomination for the district in a contentious battle.
Below is a map of the 2002-2010 version of California's 50th Congressional district.
The 50th Congressional district had some overlap with Bilbray's old 49th district in northern San Diego, but the district was mostly new to him. Bilbray won the June, 2006 special election with 49% of the vote and then took 54% in the general election in 2006 against the same candidate, won 50%-46% in 2008 (with 4% going to a Libertarian) even as John McCain only took 47% in the district, and then crushed his opponent in 2010 with 57% of the vote.
Bilbray looked to be in a relatively strong position after three strong wins between 2006 and 2010, but redistricting would not be exceedingly kind to him.
The 2011 California Redistricting Process
In a surprise to many political observers, California voters passed a redistricting reform ballot referendum that was strongly opposed by the state's Congressional delegation, organized labor, and other groups that strongly value incumbency. A charter to create an independent commission made up of 5 Republicans, 5 Democrats, and 4 Independents was added to the California Constitution to redraw the boundaries of the state's Board of Equalization, Legislative, and Congressional districts each decade.
The California Citizens Redistricting Commission eventually produced a map that shook up Californian politics. Numerous incumbents were placed together, some incumbents' districts were shredded and the incumbent had no logical place to run, and some incumbents had to introduce themselves to a largely new districts. Needless to say, scores of retirements occurred in the same year for the first time in decades and a handful of open seats, a rare commodity in California, were created.
Congressional Redistricting in San Diego County strengthened the East County district held by Republican Duncan D. Hunter, a young military veteran who took over the seat held by his father when Duncan Hunter unsuccessfully ran for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2008. Darrell Issa, who represented a Coastal North County, solidly-Republican seat that stretched up into Temecula and other heavily conservative portions of Riverside County, went from holding a seat won with 53% by John McCain to running in a seat narrowly won by Barack Obama in 2008 (albeit one that was still considered heavily Republican by most observers). Bob Filner's and Susan Davis' districts stayed heavily Democratic.
California's new 52nd Congressional district
Below is a map of California's 52nd Congressional district after the 2011 redistricting cycle.
The real loser in Congressional redistricting in San Diego County was Brian Bilbray. Bilbray went from holding a seat that voted 51% for President Obama in 2008, making it a few points to the right of the country as a whole, to having to run in the newly-minted, slightly Democratic-leaning 52nd Congressional district. In 2004, the new 52nd Congressional district was won by George W. Bush with 51% of its vote, the same percentage Bush received nationwide. However, like in much of San Diego County, the 52nd shifted to the left and voted almost 2.5% to the left of the country as a whole. The district is still fairly solidly Republican in statewide elections in California, with Carly Fiorina winning 50-43% over Barbara Boxer statewide in the 2010 US Senate election (compared to Fiorina's 42.2% statewide performance) and Meg Whitman winning the district 49-42% (as compared to her 40.9% performance statewide). Still, with California's being about D+9 to the national average, these results that show the 52nd 7-8% more Republican than the state as a whole still conclude that the 52nd is slightly to the left of the national average, albeit swingy and almost evenly divided.
In terms of voter registration, the 52nd district has a slight Republican advantage, with 34.3% of registered voters being Republicans, 32.6% being Democrats, and 28.1% being independents.
California's newly-drawn 52nd Congressional District was drawn to include most of Coastal Central County (including the City of Coronado), small parts of Central San Diego, and parts of Inland North County (including the City of Poway). Even with Poway and Coronado, over 90% of the district's overwhelmingly suburban-dominated population resided within San Digo city limits. While it had become slightly Democratic leaning in Presidential elections, the district's portion of San Diego still voted heavily Republican in most city and state elections in recent years. While not as Republican as they historically had been, Poway and Coronado residents still gave nearly 60% of their votes in each city to John McCain in 2008.
Republicans knew that Bilbray would have a fight on his hands if he ran for reelection, especially considering that only 40% of the 52nd district came from the old 50th Congressional district. Gone from Bilbray's territory were Carlsbad, Escondido, San Marcos, Encinitas, Solana Beach, and Del Mar. In return, the new 52nd district included Republicans cities in Coronado and Poway and Republican neighborhoods in San Diego like Rancho Bernardo, Point Loma, and Pomerado but also heavily-Democratic University City, Ocean Beach, Pacific Bach and other parts of Central San Diego as well as Democratic parts of La Jolla that had been given to Susan Davis in the 2001 redistricting process.
The 52nd Congressional district is one of the country's most affluent and well-educated Congressional districts. Most of it is thoroughly upper-middle class, although a substantial portion of the district, mainly in La Jolla, Coronado, Carmel Valley, Torrey Pines and other portions of northern San Diego, is incredibly affluent. While parts of the district are strongholds for their preferred parties, such as Poway, Coronado, and Rancho Bernardo for Republicans and Centre City, Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach, and University City for the Democrats, much of the district is highly politically competitive and liable to swing towards Republicans in city and state elections. Needless to say, the makeup of the district, combined with its election results in recent years, pointed to quite the biennial battle for the district for the rest of the decade.
Background on the 2012 Election for California's 52nd Congressional District
Two Democrats decided to challenge Brian Bilbray in 2012. In 2010, California's voters approved a reform to the state's primary elections in which all candidates run in a blanket primary and the top two candidates, no matter their party, advance. Partisan primaries, therefore, were no longer. Bilbray was all but assured a spot in the general election, but the battle for second place was between former Assemblywoman Lori Saldana and San Diego Port Commissioner Scott Peters. Saldana's Central San Diego-based district, which she represented from 2004 until 2010, had a great deal of overlap with the southern portion of the 52nd Congressional district. Her district included Point Loma, Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach, Mission Bay, Centre City, Clairemont, part of Tierrasanta, and Kearny Mesa.
Below is a map that shows the boundaries of Saldana's Assembly district.
Scot Peters also formerly served a San Diego City Councilman, representing La Jolla, University City, Torrey Pines, Carmel Valley, and Rancho Penasquitos. His former council district's boundaries are shown in the map below. His district is the blue district labeled "1."
Scott Peters, the son of a Lutheran minister, was born in Ohio and raised in Michigan. He attended Duke University and NYU's law school. Like so many Midwesterners before him, Peters came to San Diego (for his wife's business). He practiced law in San Diego before entering politics. Mild mannered and agreeable in personality, Peters' moderate political profile was considered a far better fit than Saldana's unabashedly progressive profile. Republicans considered Peters a far stronger general election candidate, both because of his political profile and his North San Diego political base, and most hoped Saldana would advance. Scott Peters' wife, a notable businesswoman in the San Diego area, also is estimated to be worth around $80 million from his financial disclosure forms, making him able to self-fund when necessary.
Scott Peters, however, was not without his flaws. During his time on the San Diego City Council, Peters helped arrange the underfunding of the city's pension fund while increasing benefits for city employees. The underfunding was exposed by a whistleblower a few years later and turned into a huge scandal in San Diego.
To read more about the pension crisis/scandal, check out this resource from the San Diego Union Tribune: http://legacy.utsandiego.com/news/metro/pension/
Peters would continue to serve on the San Diego City Council until 2008, when he would run for City Attorney. Tarnished by the pension scandal, Peters finished third with 20% in the primary and did not advance to the general election. He would move on to serve as a San Diego Port Commissioner, serving as Chairman in 2011.
The 2012 San Diego Mayoral Primary
Concurrent in 2012 with the Presidential and Congressional primary and general elections were the San Diego Mayoral primary and general elections. While Republicans tend to do far better in primary elections than they do in general elections in California, thanks to Republican constituencies turning out far more strongly than Democratic constituencies in primary elections, Democrats turned out strongly in the 52nd Congressional district thanks to the mayoral primary. Outgoing Republican Mayor Jerry Sanders, the former San Diego Police Chief, could not run for reelection.
Three mayor Republicans ran, along with one major Democrat, in the blanket primary. Republican City Councilman Carl DeMaio, Republican Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, and Republican County Sheriff Bonnie Dumanis each were considered serious top two contenders at the beginning of the race. DeMaio was clearly the most conservative candidate in the race, Dumanis was the law and order candidate, and Fletcher was the moderate in the race. Interestingly enough, both DeMaio and Dumanis were openly gay.
Dumanis earned Mayor Sanders' endorsement out of the gate, but her campaign stagnated early on and she fell out of contention. DeMaio was Sanders' chief critic during his 2008-2012 tenure on the city council (in which he represented the green colored 6th district on the council map shown above). DeMaio was the biggest advocate of pension reform of any San Diego City Councilman, and it became his signiature issue. After the San Diego Republican Party endorsed DeMaio in March, Fletcher realized that his best path to the general election went through running as an independent. Fletcher, in an attempt to consolidate moderates, some liberals, and some Dumanis supporters, left the GOP and declared that partisan politics were behind him. In effect, he tried to be the anti-DeMaio. DeMaio responded by attacking him in an attempt to keep him out of the general election because Fletcher would have consolidated moderates and Democrats and would have easily won.
DeMaio was all but assured a spot in the top two, and the question at hand before the primary was whether Filner or Fletcher would be his general election opponent. Sanders even publicly declared on election day, after quietly telling his supporters to vote for Fletcher after Dumanis' campaign collapsed, that his second choice in the race was Fletcher.
In the end, enough partisan Democrats voted that Congressman Bob Filner, generally considered an uninspiring candidate, advanced to the top two along with Carl DeMaio. Below is a chart that shows the San Diego Mayoral primary election results.
The Primary Election for California's 52nd Congressional District
Lori Saldana and Scott Peters battled to the end for a spot in the general election, and the race was a squeaker. Peters cleaned up in Northern San Diego and Saldana won the southern portion of the district in an overwhelming manner. In the end, Brian Bilbray and Scott Peters advanced to the general election. Below is a chart that shows the results of the major three candidates in the primary election. A few Tea Party Republicans and conservative independents split most of the rest of the primary vote.
Republicans in districts with similar political makeups in California tend to do far better in primaries than consolidated Republicans did in the 2012 primary election in CA-52. Democrats took 46.3% of the combined vote and Republicans took 48.2%, with the rest of the vote going to independents. Considering that Democrats tend to perform better in general elections than in primary elections in California, Republicans hoped that a competitive Democratic primary and a competitive mayoral primary boosted turnout levels to levels more similar to general election turnout levels. This thought assuaged many Republicans' fears, but one thing was certain: the general election between Scott Peters and Brian Bilbray in November of 2012 would be highly competitive and incredibly expensive.
The 2012 General Election for California's 52nd Congressional District
By most accounts, Scott Peters ran a better general election campaign than Brian Bilbray did. Both sides raised about $2 million, but Peters lent himself $2 million, allowing him to easily outspend Bilbray in the general election. Republicans knew that Barack Obama would win the 52nd district, albeit more narrowly than he won it in 2008. However, Republicans hoped that Obama would only hit 51 or 52% of the two-way vote share. At the same time, Republicans knew that Carl DeMaio would overwhelmingly win the portion of San Diego that makes up most of the 52nd district. Bilbray hoped to overperform Obama's results enough to win, and that Carl DeMaio's coattails would help him cross the finish line.
Peters slammed Bilbray on some environmental votes, and Bilbray responded with this ad, his first of the cycle, highlighting his love of surfing and his advocacy for San Diego's coastline in Congress.
Bilbray also tried to assert his independence by talking about how he voted against some unsatisfactory attempts at environmental protection led by Republican leadership. As Bilbray said, “I know that 'clean coal' is as logical as 'safe cigarettes.' I know we are wasting money and time messing with coal rather than going to cleaner technologies. I voted against that. That would be counted as one across the aisle.”
Peters also tried to paint Bilbray as a staunch conservative who was out of touch for the moderate 52nd Congressional district. Bilbray responded by claiming, in an interview, that, "My positions have been rated between one and 100, one being most liberal and 100 being the most conservative," Bilbray said. "I’ve been rated for a lifetime at a 54. That’s about as moderate as you can be." Bilbray was referring to his National Journal vote ratings.
Peters countered by claiming that, "These are not your parents' Republicans,” Peters said, “These are Tea Party Republicans who’ve said that no one will pay more taxes, including millionaires, billionaires and oil companies. We can’t balance the budget in a balanced way without some sort of moderation, and I think a lot of Republicans are supporting me because they realize this has just got out of hand.”
Bilbray and the NRCC also went on the attack, with the NRCC pounding Peters for his involvement in San Diego's pension scandal. The NRCC and conservative groups attacked Peters in numerous TV ads, spending millionis in the district. Democratic groups and the DCCC also spent millions attacking Bilbray.
Late in the race, Bilbray was reportedly down to Peters by a mid-single digit margin. The Presidential race had effectively settled, and most observers knew that Barack Obama would win both nationwide and in the 52nd Congressional district, which tends to vote similarly to the nation as a whole. Carl DeMaio's coattails could have pulled Bilbray across the finish line, but that alone was unlikely.
At his daughter Briana's urging, Bilbray's last ad of the race featured a somber, direct appeal to voters from Briana. Briana, who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, told voters that her father was one of Congress' foresmost and most effective advocates for increased cancer research funding.
The controversial ad, released just under two weeks before the general election, yielded a mixed reaction from voters of the 52nd district. However, it certainly drew media attention to the CA-52 race and got Brian Bilbray's name in the spotlight. The ad likely won Bilbray some votes, and Bilbray reportedly rose in the polls in the last two weeks of the campaign. At the same time, the ad may well have turned off some potential Bilbray voters who did not appreciate the desperate seeming emotional appeal so late in the race.
On election night, Brian Bilbray led for most of the evening. However, at the end of the night, the final few neighborhoods that reported propelled Scott Peters over the finish line. Barack Obama won the 52nd district with 53.38% of the two-way vote share, 1.46% to the left of the country as a whole. Brian Bilbray ran 2.14% ahead of Mitt Romney and finished with 48.76% of the vote. Bilbray needed to run 3.39% ahead of Romney but fell short. At the same time, Carl DeMaio lost the mayoral election to Congressman Bob Filner, but DeMaio received 56.03% of the vote in the portion of San Diego in the 52nd Congressional district.
Breaking Down the 2012 Election Results in California's 52nd Congressional District
Below is a map that divides the 52nd Congressional district into 19 regions. Regions were determined by San Diego County precinct results, which delineated results from the various neighborhoods. Some small neighborhoods were added to larger neighborhoods when the two neighborhoods were culturally similar, but most were kept distinct. Results for the Presidential, Mayoral, and Congressional elections will subsequentially be broken down by region.
Mitt Romney's 2012 Performance in the 52nd Congressional District
Below is a map that shows how Mitt Romney performed in each of the regions of the 52nd Congressional district.
Navy: 63+% Obama
Blue: 57-63% Obama
Dodger blue: 53-57 Obama
Sky blue: 50-53% Obama
Salmon: 50-53% Romney
Red: 53-57% Romney
Crimson: 57-63% Romney
Brian Bilbray's 2012 Performance in the 52nd Congressional District
Below is a map that shows how Brian Bilbray performed in each of the regions of the 52nd Congressional district.
Navy: 63+% Peters
Blue: 57-63% Peters
Dodger blue: 53-57 Peters
Sky blue: 50-53% Peters
Salmon: 50-53% Bilbray
Red: 53-57% Bilbray
Crimson: 57-63% Bilbray
Brian Bilbray's 2012 Performance in California's 52nd Congressional District Relative to Mitt Romney's
Below is a map that shows how Brian Bilbray performed as compared to Mitt Romney in each of the regions of the 52nd Congressional district. Bilbray ran ahead of Romney in each of the regions of the district, aside from the City of Poway and Scott Peters' home neighborhood of La Jolla.
Sky blue: Bilbray ran behind Romney by up to .28%
Salmon: Bilbray ran ahead of Romney by up to 2.14%
Red: Bilbray ran ahead of Romney between 2.15 and 4%
Crimson: Bilbray ran ahead of Romney between 4 and 6%
Reddish Brown: Bilbray ran ahead of Romney between 6 and 9.14%
Carl DeMaio's 2012 Performance in the 52nd Congressional District
Below is a map that shows how Carl DeMaio performed in each of the regions of the 52nd Congressional district. Poway and Coronado, of course, should be excluded (ignore their coloring in the map).
Blue: 59.36% Filner (Ocean Beach)
Sky blue: 50-52% Filner
Salmon: 50-53% DeMaio
Red: 53-57% DeMaio
Crimson: 57-63% DeMaio
Reddish Brown: 63+% DeMaio
Note: Map needs to be replaced. Come back later for it.
Brian Bilbray's 2012 Performance in California's 52nd Congressional District Relative to Carl DeMaio's
Below is a map that shows how Brian Bilbray performed as compared to Carl DeMaio in each of the regions of the 52nd Congressional district. The Cities of Poway and Coronado have, of course, been excluded. Bilbray ran behind DeMaio in every region of the 52nd district.
Navy: Bilbray ran between 11 and 13.67% behind DeMaio
Blue: Bilbray ran between 8 and 11% behind DeMaio
Dodger blue: Bilbray ran between 6 and 8% behind DeMaio
Sky blue: Bilbray ran between 3.95 and 6% behind DeMaio
Analysis: Clairemont was developed in the 1950s and was one of San Diego's first suburbs. It's generally middle class and has nice access to Downtown San Diego. The only Mission Valley precinct in the district, home to USD, a Jesuit University, was also added to Clairemont for this analysis. Clairemont has substantial Hispanic and Asian populations, which cause it to lean Democratic. Brian Bilbray ran pretty well compared to Mitt Romney in Clairemont, but not well enough. Relatively speaking, Brian Bilbray ran well compared to Carl DeMaio here (though still well behind).
Region 2: Coronado
Analysis: The City of Coronado is home to a Naval Air Station and an Amphibious Base. Coronado is wealthy, heavily conservative, and has substantial veteran and active duty military populations. Brian Bilbray ran ahead of Mitt Romney here, but not well enough ahead. He still got a nice margin out of Coronado, though.
Region 3: Centre City
Analysis: Centre City, or Downtown San Diego, has a substantial young professional population. It also is home to a large business district and the Gaslamp Quarter, the historic center of San Diego. The Gaslamp Quarter has plenty of great bars and restaurants and has plenty of charm. Petco Park is also found downtown. There are some less affluent parts of Centre City, especially in its northwesternmost edge (which was historically an Italian district). Bilbray ran quite well downtown, and almost ran as well as he would have needed to districtwide. Bilbray seemed to do relatively well in areas of the district with large populations of young professionals. However, he still ran significantly behind Carl DeMaio downtown.
Region 4: Carmel Valley (Listed in precinct reports as Del Mar Heights)
Analysis: Carmel Valley is a moneyed district of Torrey Pines. Brian Bilbray and Scott Peters both represented it before the 2012 election. DeMaio ran far ahead of Brian Bilbray here, but Bilbray also ran almost 3 points ahead of Mitt Romney in Carmel Valley. Scott Peters and Barack Obama narrowly won it, however. Mitt Romney significantly overperformed John McCain here, as he did in all of the wealthy portions of CA-52.
Region 5: Kearny Mesa (Listed in precinct reports as Montgomery)
Kearny Mesa is quickly becoming minority majority, as it has substantial minority populations. One of the less affluent areas of CA-52, Brian Bilbray ran almost 5% of Mitt Romney in Kearny Mesa but still lost it. Montgomery Field Airport, a small airport, is located here.
Region 6: La Jolla
Analysis: La Jolla is San Diego's most prestigious and elite neighborhood. From Bird Rock up to Downtown La Jolla and east to Soledad South and Hidden Valley, the entire area is wonderful. I've been a few times and I can comfortably call La Jolla my favorite place in the United States. There's nowhere I'd rather live than the inland, foothills-situated La Jolla neighborhoods of Muirlands and Country Club. Inland La Jolla has incredibly high housing values, and it's the home of Scott Peters (D-Muirlands). Bilbray represented inland portions of La Jolla before 2012, but much of La Jolla was in Susan Davis' old district. La Jolla has a substantial Jewish population, which causes it to lean slightly to the left. Mitt Romney rebounded here in a huge way compared to John McCain's 2008 performance. Still, Barak Obama narrowly won La Jolla and Brian Bilbray ran .28% behind him thanks to Peters' hometown boost.
Region 7: Midway/Old Town
Analysis: This minority heavy district contains San Diego International Airport and is pretty strongly Democratic. Brian Bilbray ran 1.64% ahead of Mitt Romney here, putting up a decent performance.
Region 8: Mira Mesa
Analysis: Mira Mesa contains Miramar Naval Air Station, the setting of Top Gun. Full of developments, Mira Mesa is an upper-middle class region that was in Brian Bilbray's pre-redistricting, 50th Congressional district. Mira Mesa, home to Qualcomm, is also home to a lot of Qualcomm employees. Bilbray ran extremely well here, running 4.19% ahead of Mitt Romney. Mira Mesa is almost majority Asian, which could spell trouble for the GOP. Still, wealthy, Asian areas in southern California (like La Habra Heights and Walnut) have treated the GOP fairly well so there may not be a big reason for concern. This was Carl DeMaio's second worst area compared to Bilbray districtwide, as he only ran 4.15% ahead of Bilbray. DeMaio needed to put up a stronger performance in Mira Mesa in order to win his race.
Region 9: Mission Bay
Analysis: Mission Bay is home to Mission Bay Park, the largest man-made aquatic park in the country, as well as Sea World. Overwhelmingly white and moderately affluent, Mission Bay leans left. Brian Bilbray ran a decent 2.3% ahead of Mitt Romney here, but still ran well behind Carl DeMaio.
Region 10: Ocean Beach
Analysis: Ocean Beach is the shangri-la of San Diego's surfing community. Brian Bilbray, a surfer, did decently but disappointed here. His appeal to surfers did not catch on as much as it should have in Ocean Beach. Bilbray ran well compared to Carl DeMaio in OB, as Ocean Beach is known to San Diegans.
To get a better feel for Bilbray's personality, check out this great quote from a 1997 issue of Fast Company magazine. (http://www.fastcompany.com/28923/wanna-catch-next-wave-business)
"Even politicians are catching the wave. "Surfing is a lifestyle and a mind-set," says U.S. Representative Brian Bilbray (R-CA), 46, a Windansea regular whenever he escapes from Washington, DC. In fact, Bilbray's chief of staff (not a surfer) has been known to paddle out with his boss and brief him on pressing issues while he waits for a killer wave. Sound offbeat? "Surfers are independent thinkers," Bilbray says. "We're mavericks. We're not very good followers, but we know how to break the rules." Bilbray doesn't mind if beltway insiders ridicule his love of the stoke. He emphasizes the parallels between surfing and politics. "You have to be able to spot a swell when it's coming," he says. "And you need the guts to be in front, where you can get hurt. No one behind a wave has ever caught one. And no one behind a wave has ever been wiped out by one. If you want to ride a wave, you have to risk it."
Region 11: Pacific Beach
Analysis: Brian Bilbray rented an apartment in Pacific Beach because his residence in Carlsbad was drawn out of his district in redistricting. Pacific Beach is a lot like Ocean Beach, but slightly more upscale. In addition to surfers, PB has a decently sized young professional community. It has also gentrified fairly significantly in the past decade and a half as La Jolla has somewhat spilled over into PB. Brian Bilbray's appeal to surfers and his strength amongst young professionals showed here, as he ran an astonishing 9.14% ahead of Mitt Romney in PB. Still, he ran almost 10% behind Carl DeMaio in PB.
Region 12: Point Loma
Analysis: Point Loma is home to Naval Base Point Loma, Point Loma Nazarene University, and plenty of old money. Many homes in Point Loma overlook the San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean from a gentle incline. Mitt Romney and Brian Bilbray both won Point Loma, and Bilbray and Romney both did quite well compared to Carl Demaio (who put up a rather weak performance in Point Loma).
Region 13: Pomerado
Analysis: Pomerado is about as close to East County as one can find in the city of San Diego. Brian Bilbray, who was new to Pomerado ran fairly strongly, but not strongly enough, there. Still, Bilbray and Romney both won Pomerado. Pomerado is pretty solidly upper middle class, and has a large Asian population but not as large of one as Mira Mesa does.
Region 14: Poway
Analysis: Poway, home of former San Diego Padres superstar and Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, is an upper-middle class to moderately affluent, depending on the part of town, city in Inland North Country. Poway, heavily conservative, is known for its strong schools and its mountain living. Poway was perhaps Brian Bilbray's most unexpected and disappointing performance. Scott Peters had no connections to Poway, yet ran oh so slightly ahead of Barack Obama there. Bilbray never represented Poway before, but still should have performed more strongly there.
Region 15: Rancho Bernardo
Analysis: Rancho Bernardo is an affluent, master planned community in Inland North County with a large retired population and great golf courses. Home to Carl DeMaio, Brian Bilbray represented its southern half before 2012. Brian Bilbray and Mitt Romney both won it handily, although Bilbray only ran 1.27% ahead of Romney there. Both ran far behind native son Carl DeMaio, with Bilbray running 11% behind DeMaio's performance.
Region 16: Rancho Penasquitos
Analysis: Like Mira Mesa, Rancho Penasquitos, an upper-middle class community that grew rapidly and is full of housing developments, has a large Asian population at 26%. Still, Brian Bilbray and Mitt Romney both won this area that Scott Peters represented as a city councilman. Bilbray also ran 2.47% ahead of Romney here, an impressive performance considering that both he and Peters had represented it before. Carl DeMaio also didn't run all that well compared to Brian Bilbray in Rancho Penasquitos, only running 7.35% ahead.
Region 17: San Carlos
Analysis: San Carlos is an upper-middle class area that's full of developments. It's also fairly removed from the rest of the district both culturally and geographically. I've never been there and don't have much more to say about it, but Brian Bilbray ran 2.67% ahead of Mitt Romney there. He also ran just 5.15% behind Carl DeMaio, one of his best performances districtwide compared to DeMaio.
Region 18: Tierrasanta
Analysis: Tierrasanta is a lot like San Carlos, but is less white. Interestingly enough, Bilbray ran 2.58% ahead here of Mitt Romney, similar to his 2.67% overperformance in San Carlos. Carl Demaio also only ran 6.58% ahead of Bilbray here, a relatively weak performance.
Region 19: University City
Analysis: University City is home to UCSD, and much of what the City of San Diego's elections department calls UC is considered part of La Jolla. Scott Peters represented this area in the San Diego City Council. University City also has substantial Jewish and Asian populations. Carl DeMaio probably needed to win University City in order to win CA-52. He came close, registering at 49.57% in the CA-52 portion (which exludes much of UCSD's campus). DeMaio ran 11.47% of Brian Bilbray here, who received 38% of the vote. Bilbray ran a fairly strong 2.8% ahead of Mitt Romney in University City, which was an especially good performance considering that Peters had represented it on the City Council. University City is also home to many young professionals, reaffirming that Bilbray seemingly ran well with that crowd.
Conclusions and 2014
In sum, Brian Bilbray likely lost because of extremely high turnout generated by both a Presidential and Mayoral race. Bilbray ran around 2.5% ahead of Mitt Romney in most of the regions of CA-52, but his poor performances in Poway and La Jolla hurt him. Bilbray probably had unique appeal for a Republican running in Pacific Beach, but not in many other regions of the district. In a midterm, when turnout would have been lower, Bilbray's ~2.14% overperformance of the top of the GOP ticket would have likely translated into a victory over Scott Peters. However, Peters was just too strong to defeat in a Democratic-leaning Presidential year in a D+1.4 district.
Carl DeMaio would likely be the strongest GOP candidate for CA-52 in 2014. While Scott Peters is a far stronger opponent than Bob Filner, DeMaio put up a strong performance across the San Diegan portions of CA-52 (which make up ~90% of the district). While much of DeMaio's overperformance amongst independents and moderate Democrats was due to running on local and not federal issues, DeMaio still has won many votes from voters who usually vote Democratic in Northern San Diego. Some good will would translate from the mayoral race from these voters, and a midterm electorate in CA-52 will undoubtedly be at least slightly better than the high turnout electorate Brian Bilbray faced in 2012.
Here's what San Diego Magazine had to say about DeMaio in 2007:
AN ORANGE COUNTY PRODUCT who came to San Diego via Washington, D.C., Carl DeMaio has won considerable attention in a surprisingly short period of time. A graduate of Georgetown Prep and Georgetown University, DeMaio established three companies while still in his 20s, including The Performance Institute, a private think tank that does $10 million annually, holding training sessions for government leaders and managers. He played a key role in the Citizens Budget Project to streamline state government following Governor Gray Davis’ recall. He has been an adviser to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and he’s served on White House advisory panels. DeMaio arrived in San Diego five years ago——just before the city began to sink under the weight of a $2 billion pension deficit——and he quickly became an outspoken, and controversial, advocate for reform.
DeMaio is a self-made millionaire and a prodigious fundraiser. He could both drop some of his own money into the race to counter Peters' millions, and he's a far stronger fundraiser than Brian Bilbray ever was. DeMaio also has fundraising lists from across the city, thanks to his strong fundraising in the '12 mayoral race. Additionally, his status as a gay man likely will prevent many voters from believing that he's the conservative extremist that Scott Peters tried to paint Brian Bilbray as and that he would undoubtedly try to tag DeMaio as.
The 52nd Congressional district may lean slightly Democratic, but it's affluent, well-educated, and mostly suburban in nature. The Republican Party needs to make inroads again in socially moderate/liberal and fiscally moderate/conservative suburban areas. The GOP also needs to make inroads with the Asian community. CA-52 has a moderately large Asian population and is socially center-left and fiscally center-right. Why not run a strong race for CA-52 with a credible, top-tier candidate like Carl DeMaio and test our luck in a midterm electorate? I believe that Carl DeMaio has far more upside than Brian Bilbray did, and that he's our best bet for returning to controlling 3 of the 5 San Diego County Congressional districts.
Hope you enjoyed this article. I'm a political science student at Haverford College in Southeastern Pennsylvania. To email me, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org