Stung by her second-place finish in the June mayoral primary, County Supervisor Susan Golding is promising major strategy changes as her runoff campaign moves to slow the momentum that growth management advocate Peter Navarro brings into the fall contest.
From the streets to the airwaves to public debates, voters will see a more active, aggressive Golding and a dramatically increased volunteer force, a sharp contrast to the candidate who absorbed more attacks than she launched during the primary and spent few resources mounting a door-to-door campaign, aides say.
In a race where so much can depend on public perception of a candidate, Golding's forces also appear to be trying to alter Navarro's image as the leader of a popular, grass-roots movement and portray him and his followers as an isolated band of zealots who do not enjoy mainstream support.
Already, a common theme from Golding and her aides is that Navarro would be a "divisive" leader, while Golding would prove a unifying force for the city.
"Basically, we have an unemployed Orange County professor who has nothing more to do than run for office full-time," Dan McAllister, Golding's newly hired campaign manager, says of Navarro. (Actually, Navarro was on leave without pay from his job at UC Irvine during the primary and is teaching one class there this fall, his aides said.)
"The people who know Peter Navarro best, who have been around here for a few years, don't like him very well, are scared of him," contends Tom Shepard, Golding's political consultant. They believe that "Peter Navarro is going to run roughshod over the neighborhoods."
The Navarro camp scoffs at such claims, noting pointedly that the founder of Prevent Los Angelization Now! demonstrated widespread support by capturing seven of eight council districts in the primary, running strongly even in some neighborhoods where his "don't yield to developers" theme would not have been expected to play well. Golding, a Republican, bested Navarro, an independent, only in the heavily Democratic and minority 4th Council District.
"The Sunday before the election . . . she basically laid claim to having the broadest-based coalition of any of the candidates, and she rattled on about how she was strong all over the city," Navarro said of Golding. "And, two days later, I thumped her all over the city."
Even some of Golding's supporters privately concede that the candidate's revamped strategy and personnel changes are designed to make up for the mistakes of the primary season, when the two-term county supervisor squandered a huge lead in the polls by mounting an ineffective campaign. Golding said she raised nearly $400,000 for the primary.
"I don't think there was any real organization. I don't think there were any real ideas," said one Golding supporter who followed the race closely and insisted on anonymity. "It was a defensive campaign. She was sitting back and trying to protect a lead."
The Golding campaign "was taking too much for granted, obviously," said another backer. There was "the sense that, at a bare minimum, they were going to come in second, and the real work would begin after that."
Golding herself acknowledged that "there were just some things we didn't do right in the primary. We learned from them, and we're going to do them right in the general (election)."
"There was a tremendous amount of apathy during the primary," she added. "Because I was consistently the front-runner in the polls, people kept saying, 'Oh, don't worry, you have it in the bag,' and it was hard to convince people that this was a tough race."
Navarro, who along with City Councilman Ron Roberts started far behind Golding in public opinion polls, placed first in the June 2 primary with 38.2% of the vote to Golding's 31.2%. Roberts, financier Tom Carter and two minor candidates trailed the pair.
Because nocontender captured a majority of the votes, the top two vote-getters will face each other in a run-ff election Nov. 3.
A variety of factors have been cited for the UC Irvine economics professor's success, including anti-incumbent fervor and the reform theme ably delivered by Navarro, an outsider who has never held elected office. Navarro, the founder of the city's best-known growth management organization, also benefited from a six-way primary that allowed him to capture a plurality in a low turnout election by turning out his core constituency of environmental activists.
But even Navarro's critics say a key factor in his strong showing was an indefatigable precinct-walking operation whose volunteers contacted 25,000 to 50,000 voters at their doorsteps, according to Peter Andersen, who coordinated the effort for Navarro's campaign. Paid walkers left Navarro literature on the doorsteps of 20,000 to 30,000 more homes, Andersen claims.
Roberts also mounted a strong door-to-door campaign. But Golding volunteers were much less visible on the streets, except for several weekend gatherings during which volunteers were encouraged to walk their neighborhoods.
"We did not do as much as I had wanted to, that's absolutely true," Golding said. "I'm not sure why. It just didn't happen."
That will change during the general election, Golding and her aides vow. Widely expected to outspend Navarro by a substantial margin, they also boast that they will field a volunteer force of perhaps 1,000 people.
The campaign intends to visit the homes of every "likely" voter in the city--those with a history of consistently voting in past elections, Shepard said. The use of phone banks will also be dramatically increased.
Golding aides won't say how many homes that is. In 1984, the last time a San Diego mayor's race coincided with a November presidential election, 356,000 people cast ballots in the contest between Roger Hedgecock and Dick Carlson. Voter registration has increased by about 50,000 since.
Some critics believe it will be difficult, if not impossible, to reach that many voters on foot. But George Gorton, Golding's top adviser, sees three advantages to a strong grass-roots effort.
"Point one is we take Navarro on in his own back yard, and show him up for what he is, smoke and mirrors," claimed Gorton, who has orchestrated Gov. Peter Wilson's successful campaigns. "Point two, is to communicate to voters in the voter-friendly medium of word of mouth. And in a presidential year, the airwaves, will be rather crowded."
Navarro's campaign, which hopes to double the size of its precinct-walking effort in the run-off, is especially skeptical that Golding can pull off a major grass-roots effort.
"I'd rather have 100 crackerjack precinct walkers than 500 schlocks," said Peter Andersen, Navarro's field coordinator. "Green berets against militia is not a contest, and I've got some really dedicated volunteers."
Chris Crotty, a political consultant who unsuccessfully sought the field coordinator job with Golding's campaign, agrees that Golding's challenge will be to find motivated volunteers.
"They've got to find people who believe in Susan, or at least who don't believe in Peter . . . so that they can argue passionately at the doorstep on behalf of Susan," he said.
Golding claims that volunteer support is pouring into the campaign now that she is "the underdog."
"I was the front-runner. They didn't think there was a problem," she said of her supporters' lukewarm efforts during the primary. "They know that they've got to work now. They know that it's a tough campaign."
Golding plans to be much more visible than she was during the primary. Golding will spend more time campaigning at shopping centers and community events, despite the rigors of holding down her supervisor's job, aides say.
The mathematics of the race will be more to Golding's liking as well, they said. In the primary, when Navarro, Roberts and minor candidate Loch David Crane attacked her, it was difficult to respond specifically to all charges leveled at public debates, Golding said.
In the head-to-head contest, parrying Navarro's claims and defending herself will be much easier, she said.
Golding and her aides already are raising questions with reporters about Navarro's past involvement with Citizens for Limited Growth, which advocated numerical caps on housing construction; the difference in the two candidates' experience; how Navarro acquired the more than $160,000 he personally spent in the primary; and what they claim are contradictory statements Navarro makes to different interest groups.
They have attempted to portray his policies as anti-business and anti-jobs, a theme that both sides will undoubtedly emphasize as hard times persist. Heightened media scrutiny on Navarro will help, they say.
"Peter will not be able, I believe, to get away with sound bites in this race," she said. "Peter's going to have to stand behind his words, his words in the past, as well as his words in the present."
Golding also will be calling on the network of community leaders that she has established during eight years as a supervisor and two more as a San Diego city councilwoman to actively work on her behalf. The effort, if visible and successful, would serve the dual purpose of rallying support and making Navarro appear isolated.
Golding has won endorsements from Republican Roberts and Democrat Carter, as well as activists Celia Ballesteros and Bishop George McKinney, who supported Carter. Golding is also supported by the San Diego Police Officers Assn., while Navarro has won the backing of organized labor.
"The overwhelming majority of people involved in community groups have endorsed Susan Golding, people who have a similar political agenda to Peter Navarro's," Gorton contends.
Navarro counters that "the problem in San Diego is that the leadership of the city--the political leadership, the business leadership, some of the community leadership--is very detached from the people. They don't speak for the people. They don't represent the people, and they're often wrong about what the people want."
Even in an economic slump, Navarro's message that developers are too strongly in control of the city's future resonates well with a majority of the voters, said Scott Flexo, Navarro's pollster. Golding's chances for victory rest primarily on how heavily she can outspend him, Flexo said.
"If she wins," claims Navarro, "it won't be because of who she was, but how much she spends."