REGION — For a long time, most of North County was a reliable bastion of support for the Republican Party at all levels of government.
The rosters of council members and mayors, state assembly members, county supervisors and representatives in Congress would read off like the Republican Party of San Diego County’s endorsement list.
But a look across the region following the 2018 midterm elections shows that a change has definitely taken hold of the region, including areas that are still considered reliable Republican strongholds.
From the potential change in the majority on the Carlsbad City Council, a sweep of the Encinitas City Council, and a too-close-to-call showing in the Escondido Mayor’s race, to the Democrat takeover of the 49th Congressional District and the 76th State Assembly District, Democrats continue to make substantial gains throughout North County.
Experts and candidates agreed that the so-called “Blue Wave” — the term being used to describe the Democrat midterm surge that led the party’s regaining control of the House of Representatives and other key races — crashed ashore throughout the region, particularly in coastal North County.
UC San Diego political science professor Thad Kousser said the surge was historic along the coast.
“Clearly, this is a watershed election in which the entire coastal part of Southern California has gone blue on the congressional side,” Kousser said. “Orange County will not have a single Republican member of Congress and in San Diego, Democrats have added the 49th District after Scott Peters’ historic election six years ago.
“This is a generational moment in California politics that completes this transformation for this state that has a clear east-west divide,” Kousser said. “My take on this since the day after the election and the subsequent counts is that this really was a big wave, this was not a split decision.”
Democrats make big gains
Changes in demographics, combined with a deeply unpopular president, have made the Republican ticket less reliable throughout the region than in years past.
In 2016, North County voters favored Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by 16 percent. This unpopularity played itself out in the region’s marquee race, the 49th Congressional District, where Mike Levin defeated Diane Harkey for control of a seat held by Republican Darrell Issa for 20 years.
It also showed up during the 2018 primary election in the 76th State Assembly District, which had been reliably Republican since its creation after the 2010 Census. This year, however, a Republican did not advance to the runoff, where Encinitas City Councilwoman Tasha Boerner Horvath defeated Oceanside activist and former journalist Elizabeth Warren to claim the seat, padding Democrats’ comfortable majority in the State Assembly.
In Encinitas, a nonpartisan community, but one where Democrats had made inroads over the past three election cycles, there were concerns that thousands of dollars from developer-funded political-action committees could split the council, and in the event of a Boerner Horvath victory, could put the fate of the council majority in the balance.
Instead, it appears that Democrats in Encinitas could control all five council seats, as Catherine Blakespear coasted to a victory in the mayor’s race, and the candidates she supported — District 4 incumbent Joe Mosca and District 3 challenger Jody Hubbard — appear headed for victory in their respective races.
This would give them a super-majority on the council as they appoint a replacement for Boerner Horvath’s final two years.
In Carlsbad, Matt Hall scored a victory for Republicans by defeating Cori Schumacher in a very contentious race for the city’s mayor.
But Schumacher’s allies Barbara Hamilton and Priya Bhat-Patel, after trailing on election night, have assumed the lead in their respective council district races over Tracy Carmichael and Corrine Busta, respectively. With Schumacher still having two years remaining in her council term, Carlsbad’s City Council will have a 3-2 Democratic majority for at least the next two years.
“This was your grandfather’s San Diego,” Kousser said of Carlsbad’s previous Republican unanimity and Encinitas’ moderate Republican lean. “But when Encinitas will wind up with a stronger Democratic majority than the city of San Diego, that is a huge transition.”
Kousser said that Carlsbad and Encinitas’ move toward the center-left is directly correlated to the region’s unpopularity with President Donald Trump, especially in those cities’ suburbs, which are the areas where Trump’s unpopularity resonates.
“Those eastern suburbs, those are the types of areas where Donald Trump has brought the biggest losses, those affluent white suburbs that are socially moderate and pro-immigration,” Kousser said. “These are parts of California where Trump is losing for the Republican Party.”
A similar phenomenon occurred in San Marcos, where Rebecca Jones — the city’s vice mayor who was endorsed by the Republican Party and all of the region’s Republican mayors — defeated outgoing Councilman Chris Orlando in the city’s mayoral election.
But the candidates Orlando supported in the city’s two council district races — longtime school board member Randy Walton and attorney Maria Nunez — are headed to victories.
While still in the minority, San Marcos now has a 3-2 ideological split on its board, the closest in the city’s history.
And in Escondido, a usually reliably “red” city, incumbent Councilman Ed Gallo was soundly defeated by Consuelo Martinez and Mayor Sam Abed is in the fight of his political life, now trailing challenger Paul “Mac” McNamara, the president of the Palomar College Governing Board, by 237 votes.
John Dadian, a San Diego-based political consultant, said that this result was the shock of the local election for him.
“Well, (Abed) was a longtime incumbent and considered a (party) insider, and sometimes you tend to look too much inside, and everyone thought he had been doing well,” Dadian said. “And with the power of incumbency, you really didn’t see the challenger as a real threat. Everyone will certainly be holding their breath to the final outcome.”
Dadian and Kousser agreed that Escondido’s demographic shift from a white to a split electorate with Latinos is playing a role in the outcome.
Kousser likened it to the Los Angeles suburb of Monterey Park, where a rise in the city’s Chinese population initially gave rise to an all-white council, but then gave way to an Asian majority.
“That area has been conservative and elected Sam Abed largely because of those demographic changes, out of concerns about whether Escondido had changed too quickly,” Kousser said. “But this election might be that tipping point where first you see the politics of reaction, but gradually you see the politics of acceptance and immigration. You see an issue like immigration spurring a Trump-like candidate like Abed, but at some point the demographic transformation is going to make it impossible to lead from the right forever.”
Republicans make a stand
Republicans were able to control some of the key races in the region.
In Vista, San Marcos and Carlsbad, Judy Ritter, Jones and Hall all won their mayoral races.
In Oceanside’s District 2 council race, Republican-backed Chris Rodriguez took advantage of three Democrat-backed candidates splitting votes to win the seat.
Two of the three Democratic and teachers’ union backed candidates in the San Dieguito Union High School District race were defeated as well, as incumbent Maureen “Mo” Muir narrowly defeated challenger Amy Flicker, and Melissa Mossy appears headed to a win over Rhea Stewart.
Desmond soundly won election to the District 5 supervisor seat that was left vacant by longtime Supervisor Bill Horn, who termed out of office.
And Republican State Assemblywoman Marie Waldron easily won re-election, while Republican State Sen. Pat Bates repelled a strong challenge by Marggie Castellano to win re-election in the 36th Senate District.
Dadian said that he didn’t believe that the 76th Assembly Race was a product of the “blue wave” as much as it was too many Republicans splitting the vote in California’s so-called “jungle primary” system.
“All of the candidates, with the exception of (Vista Councilwoman Amanda) Rigby, were from the same general geographical area,” Dadian said. “I don’t see it as much as a blue wave as a ‘blue trickle.’”
He also said that he believed that some of the gains had less to do with political ideology and more to do with the advent of district elections in several North County cities.
“When you’re campaigning in basically one-fourth of your city, it is a lot easier to get your message across,” Dadian said.
Kousser, however, said he sees that even in some of the victories — such as Bates and in the 50th Congressional District, where incumbent Duncan Hunter appears likely to hold his seat despite being under federal indictment and a strong showing by Democratic candidate Ammar Campa-Najjar — Democrats showed the strength of the wave.
“Campa-Najjar only trailing by 11,000 votes is closer than anyone would have ever predicted in bright red East County,” Kousser said. “And in any other election, taking on a sitting Minority Senate leader like Pat Bates would have seemed impossible. She doesn’t have any scandals, this is not a Duncan Hunter situation, but the fact that they got close in this district is another sign of how blue the surge was.”