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San Diego’s Political Theater is on Fire

Negative, negative, positive, negative, half positive, half negative.

I had a frightening flashback to ninth grade algebra as I was reviewing the themes of campaign mailers I asked my colleagues to bring into the office leading up to the June 5 primary election in San Diego. But it served a distinct purpose of providing clarity to a political season that was being fiercely fought by its participants.

By the way, the negatives beat the positives in our little sample size of 34 mailers – 22-12.

At Monday staff meetings for the past few weeks I brought in my favorite mailers – one had a candidate’s face torqued awkwardly, many had text that was too small to read, and others had blurry statistics that made the eyes glaze over. Pictures were plentiful. Pertinent information? Not in every case. Animals, cartoons and buffoons – we laughed and scoffed at the variances.

We may poke fun at the design, but the price for a mailing is dead serious – $40,000 according to one political operative. KUSI has a telling video clip on the cost and abundance of political campaign mailers.

While the satire runs thick in many circles during the campaign season, the large quantities of mailers represent unique circumstances in San Diego politics this year. At stake are very powerful decision-making positions for our region. Millions of dollars are aggressively being raised and spent on a mayoral election for the country’s eighth largest city. For the first time in nearly two decades, a San Diego county supervisor’s seat is up for grabs, and two-fifths of San Diego’s congressional delegation could be comprised of freshmen when the 113th Congress convenes in January.

As a bonus, new territories have spawned from the once-a-decade redistricting process, presenting many candidates with new swaths of ground to cover to boost name recognition.

The Press-Enterprise suggested that questionable taxpayer-funded mailings were one strategy some candidates might use to pump up name recognition.

While many members of the voting public will place political campaign mailers in the circular file (a.k.a. trash can) or desperately reach for the remote to change the channel from a candidate’s commercial, I admire this biennial theater attraction that features heroes, villains, epic battles and, of course, winners and losers.

Don’t forget your popcorn.

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