At the annual Alameda County Democratic Central Committee (ACDCC) holiday party this week, a colleague asked me how accurate I was on my election predictions. This post is meant to answer his question.
Truth is, I didn’t make many predictions. This year, I endorsed candidates throughout Alameda County. I thought some of them had a good chance of winning and I was less hopeful about others. Voters, however, like to go with likely winners so I wasn’t about to suggest that my endorsed candidates were going to lose.
This is not to say that I avoided calling all races. In San Leandro, there was absolutely no doubt that Pauline Cutter would be elected Mayor and that Lee Thomas would be elected to the City Council. I said as much on both cases, while urging voters to take advantage of the ranked choice voting system by choosing protest candidates as their first and second choice.
In other races, I was equally certain of the results but I tried to avoid saying so publicly. While I supported Mia Ousley for San Leandro City Council, it was clear from the start that Corina Lopez would win, and told both candidates as much. Corina started with a huge advantage by virtue of being a member both of the School Board and the ACDCC and having greater personal financial resources; that advantage only grew during the campaign as she monopolized endorsements and campaign contributions. Just as voters prefer to vote for likely winners, big time endorsers back those most likely to win in the hope of getting a return for their investment.
It was also equally clear to anyone with eyes that Leo Sheridan would be elected to the San Leandro School Board, as he was the only candidate who mounted a campaign. There is a general rule in electoral politics: if you campaign and your opponent doesn’t, you win. Incumbents can sometimes get away with not campaigning, though even then they usually do so covertly through their official functions.
Outside San Leandro, I generally assumed that the incumbents would win – a good rule of thumb when you don’t know much about an election -, so I was pleasantly surprised on several instances.
The main one, was seeing Trish Spencer beat incumbent Mary Gilmore as Mayor of Alameda. Gilmore not only had the normal advantages of incumbency (rote voting by uninformed voters, greater name recognition), but she had the support of the Democratic party, labor and the powerful firefighters union. She outspent Spencer almost 5 to 1. Yet Spencer was able to put together a large grass root campaign, united with the goal of slowing down development, and narrowly defeat Gilmore.
Similarly, I was surprised at how many incumbent school board members throughout Alameda County lost re-election. Ty Alper in Berkeley, Janet Zamudio in San Lorenzo, Dot Theodore in Castro Valley, Donn Lee Merriam in Emeryville, Gary Lym in Alameda, Tom Huynh in Newark and Mark Miller in Pleasanton all defeated incumbents. I didn’t support all of these candidates, but I wasn’t expecting any of them to win. What I have learned from these races is that the general rule that incumbents get re-elected may not really apply to School Board races – and that candidates with children have an advantage over those without.
I was unpleasantly surprised that Raj Salwan did not win re-election to the Fremont City Council. Again, I’d assumed he’d get elected on the strength of being an incumbent. I was wrong.
In some cases, while I hadn’t expected a certain candidate to win, I thought they would do much better in the election. That was the case with Mia Ousley in San Leandro, but also also with Mike Katz-Lacabe, my husband. Mike didn’t campaign at all – at least beyond going to candidate fora and endorsement interviews -, but I thought that his name recognition and ballot designation would had given him more votes. I haven’t quite figured out why I was wrong in that case; in particular, I wonder if his reputation as a strong civil libertarian actually hurt him with voters.
Alejandro Soto-Vigil in Berkeley is so energetic, and had such a solid grass root campaign behind him, that I thought he would do much better than he did. I feel similarly about Dan Siegel‘s race. Of course, in both of those situations I really wanted them to do well, and that desire might have colored my inner prediction.
Isobel Dvorsky won her race for re-election to the Chabot-Las Positas Community College Board, but I was surprised at how close her opponent got.