The Davis City Council is tricky to predict because, in the absence of accurate and robust polling, one has to rely on putting together a puzzle. That puzzle is always shifting and sometimes you don’t see all of the pieces.
For example, in 2016, while everyone pretty much knew who were going to be the three to be seated on council, the expectation by most was that Will Arnold had the inside track at finishing first. However, variables that were at play meant that he largely coasted, while Brett Lee worked extremely hard and finished a dominating first.
In 2014, it was more predictable in terms of who would finish first, as Robb Davis emerged as having a formidable campaign presence and overwhelmingly won. But Rochelle Swanson had to win a nail biter over John Munn to retain her seat and Sheila Allen, believed to be a favorite early on, finished a disappointing fourth.
But even within these results, it reinforced the key factor in Davis – it’s not about money. It’s not necessarily about name recognition even – it is about hard work and getting face to face with the voters.
Don’t get me wrong, Dan Wolk in 2012 – while he worked hard, it was name recognition that paved the way, the same for Will Arnold. But in 2010 Joe Krovoza emerged from nowhere to win, in 2014 few knew Robb Davis before he put together a remarkable campaign, Brett Lee was a surprise winner in 2012 and then a surprise first place finisher in 2016.
I often tell candidates, you don’t need to raise more than $20,000 to win, what you need to do is between yourself and your organization – walk and knock on as many doors as possible.
The hard thing from a pundit’s perspective is we can see things like money raised in financial disclosures, we can see things like signs and letters to the editor, but it’s hard to see the most important variable – how much the candidate is getting out to the voters.
I don’t really go by things like signs, as I don’t see a great correlation between signs and votes and really, despite the traditional Davis sign wars, I don’t think they matter that much.
What I do see is money and I think more than cash on hand, money is important when it is backed by a lot of voters giving $100 and now $150 apiece. In the last election, most of the candidates loaned themselves the money they needed rather than raising it from the voters, and I think that’s a mistake. This time around there is little in the way of loans and most of the money is being raised organically.
On the money trail, Dan Carson is blowing everyone else out of the race. He has raised more than the next three candidates combined.
Put that together with a reasonably effective campaign organization and the fact that the establishment seems to be coalescing around him, and I put Dan Carson as the prohibitive frontrunner in this race. I’ll go so far as to say this is now a race for second, not first.
I will hedge slightly on that because there are a lot of variables that are more difficult to account for.
That perception is reinforced by the latest endorsement from the Davis Enterprise. Dan Carson now has the endorsement of the Sacramento Bee and the Davis Enterprise and it seems a good deal of that is he appears to be the most knowledgeable of the candidates on a range of issues.
Linda Deos gets a big boost from being the second endorsement there. Gloria Partida was endorsed by the Bee. To the extent that it matters – which is probably very little – the Bee endorsement seems to matter a lot less than the Enterprise’s. Or should I say, the Bee tends to make more quixotic selections (less so this time, to be frank, than in the past).
Here is how I break down the race for second.
With all due respect, I don’t think that Luis Rios or Mark West have much of a chance to finish second. Mr. Rios just hasn’t run a visible or credible campaign, while Mark West has been on point and out-spoken, but hasn’t raised much money and is not running on a platform that is likely to be successful.
Realistically then, we see six candidates who could finish second, and here’s the case for and against each.
Gloria Partida: She was our favorite out of the gate, she has an impressive track record, is probably best known, and has raised a competent though not particularly impressive amount of money. There are a number of questions that have seemed to hold her candidacy back a bit. We would expect a more robust campaign organization and grassroots effort, and some have questioned her grasp on issues that get outside of her immediate areas of expertise.
Mary Jo Bryan: She might be emerging as a strong contender for second – she has a long history in this community and is respected across the board. She showed strongly on the financial statements. However, her message and support seems limited to seniors.
Linda Deos: She has earned some key endorsements and has raised the second most money. Where she might stumble is on her inconsistent answers on growth and housing. She stepped in it on Measure R early on, and seems to be attempting a middle ground that has alienated her from both the slow growth and the more development-oriented communities.
Eric Gudz: We think his campaign will come down to how many students turn out. History plays against him, even though he and others insist this year will be different.
Larry Guenther: He has largely hitched his wagon to the slow growth community, coming out not only against Trackside which got him into this, but also Nishi.
Ezra Beeman: He can win if the slow/no growth community comes out and votes for him. But history has shown that this is trickier than you think. We don’t think he’s run that strong a campaign, but time will tell.
So who finishes second? I think it comes down to these six, maybe in this order. But there are still too many variables to know for sure –plus we have one month to go.
The biggest wildcards that remain in this race:
- Student vote – If 5000 students show up to vote for Nishi, there is a good chance Eric Gudz gets elected too. Is that likely? Depends on who you talk to. I would tend to downplay that possibility because I don’t see the huge student groundswell at this time. But it remains to be seen.
- Huge Nishi backlash – Really don’t see this. There are not a huge number of anti-Nishi comments on the Vanguard or letters in the Enterprise. There was a relatively small audience at the Nishi forum and not many outside of the usual crowd. But be mindful that in 2000 there was only one candidate who opposed Measure J and that was Susie Boyd and she won in a landslide to finish first because she was the candidate they coalesced around. If there is a core 40 percent of slow growth voters, in a nine-person race, Larry Guenther and Ezra Beeman could surprise.
- The Trump factor – We have seen the grassroots resistance movement subside, but candidates like Gloria Partida, Linda Deos and Eric Gudz are tied into the resistance community. If those voters are energized to come out, it could have an impact on city council and also the DA’s race. Not seeing it like we did in January and February 2017, but it might be there below the surface.
Final prediction, barring a surge in student voters, my prediction is that the second winner is a woman and thus one of the first three on the list. I would say watch out for Mary Jo Bryan. She has a long history in this community and is tied in with the senior voters – who vote.
—David M. Greenwald reporting