by Claire Tregaser | KPBS
edited by Lorie Hearn | inewsource

City Councilman Kevin Faulconer scored the second best possible outcome Tuesday night, earning enough votes to advance to a runoff election early next year, but not clearing the 50-percent-of-votes threshold he needed to win the mayor’s office outright.

While his opponents held election night parties at their campaign headquarters or in their districts, Faulconer celebrated his win with supporters in a traditional election night venue: at the downtown U.S. Grant Hotel.

A crowd of supporters, mostly in business attire, drank wine and beer and ate appetizers while celebrating the win in the large Palm Court room. When results on an overhead projection in the corner showed Faulconer with an early lead, a small cry went up, but otherwise the party continued.

Faulconer took the stage at 10 p.m., flanked by blue Faulconer sign-waving supporters. He told the crowd, “this campaign is just getting started,” but also thanked voters for their resounding affirmation of his mayoral run.

Supporters cheered, “Kevin, Kevin, Kevin” in response.

Councilman Kevin Faulconer thanks his supporters/ Nicholas McVicker/ KPBS
Councilman Kevin Faulconer thanks his supporters/ Nicholas McVicker/ KPBS

“When we started the campaign, we were behind in the polls, that was just a fact,” Faulconer told KPBS/inewsource. “And we just believed that when we got out there with our message and said, you know what, we’re going to get this city back on track, we’re going to continue to make the tough decisions that got us from the brink of bankruptcy so we have the dollars to invest into our streets, our libraries, our parks. That’s a message that San Diegans know and know that’s the right path for our city, so that’s what I’ve been talking about the last two months.”

As Faulconer spoke, it was not yet clear who his opponent would be in the runoff, state Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher or City Councilman David Alvarez, both Democrats.

After former Mayor Bob Filner resigned over sexual harassment claims in mid-August, a field of candidates quickly lined up to replace him. While three prominent Democrats decided to run, Faulconer was the only Republican.

Other possible Republican candidates, such as former City Councilman Carl DeMaio and County Supervisor Ron Roberts, quickly bowed out of the mayor’s race, making Faulconer a sure bet to advance to the runoff. Voice of San Diego reported Republican leaders settled on Faulconer as their candidate, and offered him their full support while encouraging other Republicans to clear the field.

With no challenge from the right, Faulconer’s campaign set to work immediately on running Faulconer “down the middle.” The campaign described him as a moderate in press releases and in the media, and stressed to KPBS/inewsource that Faulconer “did not set foot” inside the Republican National Convention when he visited San Diego in 1996.

The campaign also emphasized Faulconer’s pro-choice, pro gun control, pro immigration reform stances, which political experts said was a shrewd move.

“With the Democratic vote split, but the Republicans unified behind him, Mr. Faulconer knew that if he could start lining up moderates early, that will build his base for the run off in January,” said Mesa College politics professor Carl Luna.

Faulconer raised and spent less money than his opponents Nathan Fletcher and David Alvarez in the primary, which Luna said was also tactical. By holding off asking for money until the runoff election, Faulconer can raise more from his supporters while Democratic donors may already be taxed, Luna said.

Faulconer’s campaign committee and independent expenditure committees brought in more than $1.250 million in the primary, less than Fletcher and Alvarez’s totals of over $1.7 million.

Faulconer’s biggest donations came from the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce PAC, the Building Industry Association of San Diego County PAC, the San Diego Restaurant & Beverage PAC and the San Diego Hotel-Motel Association Issue Advocacy PAC.

The Republican Party of San Diego County also spent heavily on mailers supporting Faulconer, while the conservative group The Lincoln Club shelled out cash for mailers attacking Fletcher, Faulconer’s most formidable opponent.

Former Mayor Jerry Sanders, the current president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce and one of Faulconer’s biggest supporters, celebrated Faulconer’s win in a speech on election night.

“Kevin’s leadership on the City Council has led to changes that have transformed our city, and I look forward to seeing what other changes that he’ll bring to our city as the next mayor,” Sanders said. “Kevin is a strong leader, he has made the tough decisions over and over, he’s made the right decisions over and over, and he’s ready to take action and create solutions.”

As Faulconer gears up for round two, it seems likely the committees supporting him will continue to spend. While the runoff election won’t be scheduled until Tuesday’s voting results are certified, Faulconer is already making plans.

“I’m looking forward to the next phase, and I’m very determined to keep talking about what we’ve been talking about, because it’s the right course for San Diego,” he said. “It’s not about being a Republican or a Democrat, it’s about, lets put San Diegans’ interests first, let’s make those tough decisions that we’ve started to make so we have the dollars necessary to reinvest in our neighborhoods.”

Lorie Hearn is the chief executive officer and editor of inewsource. She is a lifelong news-aholic who started her reporting career writing her Girl Scout newsletter at age 12. High school and college were filled with school newspaper work, and after graduation, she worked as a reporter for newspapers...