Less than a week away from the Tuesday primary election, many of the political chips have already fallen for David Campos and David Chiu, colleagues on the Board of Supervisors running against each other for the state Assembly, and the race for first place is heated though voter turnout is expected to be low.
Both candidates are expected to face each other again in a decisive November election due to California's new top-two primary system, under which the two highest vote-getters move on to the general election, even if they are from the same political party. Paired against Democrats Campos and Chiu in the Assembly District 17 race, Republican candidate David Salaverry is not considered much competition.
While Campos and Chiu have steered their campaigns away from identity politics, saying they've focused not on groups of specific ethnicities or sexual orientations but equally across the diversity of constituents, they have both succeeded to varying degrees in capturing the endorsements and support of their traditional backers.
At a May 15 rally at Portsmouth Square in the heart of Chinatown, nearly every leader in the Chinese community was present to back Chiu — who told The San Francisco Examiner on Tuesday, “I'm humbled” by the support — except for arguably the most influential of them all, Chinese Chamber of Commerce consultant Rose Pak. She announced her support for Campos on a microphone at the Chinese New Year Parade and has contributed $1,000 to his campaign.
Meanwhile, the LGBT endorsements have been somewhat split between Campos, who is gay, and Chiu, a longtime backer of LGBT issues.
Campos won endorsements from termed-out Assembly District 17 incumbent Tom Ammiano, who has tagged him as his successor, and from the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club. Chiu has been endorsed by the more moderate Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, the Gay Asian Pacific Alliance and Supervisor Scott Wiener, who is also gay.
“It weighed heavily on me that the seat has been held by an LGBT person,” Wiener said. “But despite that, for me it was about who's going to do the best job for The City, and no doubt in my mind Chiu is going to be best.”
But Campos said he feels “very positive” that his campaign has been able to consolidate as much of the LGBT community as it has.
“In the end, it's not about the endorsements,” he said. “It's actually the ground campaign, that's where we feel we've been getting a very good response.”
Campos has raised more than $450,000 and Chiu has raised $857,000, according to their respective campaigns.
“I think we're in the classic case of money versus people,” Campos said. “Money power and people power, and we have the people power.”
From the outset, Campos has pitched his candidacy in a “Tale of Two Cities” narrative with himself as the leader fighting for the little guy.
On the other hand, Chiu touted he has championed three times as much legislation as Campos and has delivered on The City's toughest issues such as jobs, building below-market-rate housing and fighting for public safety.
“I'm the only candidate in this race that has a proven record of unified leadership that's brought a diversity of constituencies together,” Chiu said. Supervisor Eric Mar, who has endorsed both candidates, said he sees Campos as stronger with immigrants rights groups and anti-displacement groups.
“I think it breaks down beyond political lines,” Mar said. “People don't just vote based on identity. LGBT people facing potential eviction might vote very different than more middle-class and affluent LGBT communities.”
As of Tuesday, 14.3 percent of absentee ballots had been returned districtwide and 16.2 percent from voters of Chinese descent, a result of ramped-up voter mobilization efforts, said David Lee, executive director of the Chinese American Voters Education Committee.
“It could be as few as a few thousand votes that will decide who comes in first and second,” Lee said. “So any kind of mobilization and surge in turnout would make a big difference, even though numerically, it might be a small number.”
Though Campos and Chiu will likely advance past next week's election, it will set the stage for the November election, said Lee, a political science lecturer at San Francisco State University.
Both candidates have voted similarly on many issues, and though many endorsements have already been made, some are still deciding whom to support. Lee said the winner next week will have a “commanding lead” in fundraising, endorsements and resources.
“You want to start at the pole position with a healthy gap between you and your challenger going into November,” he said. “People on the sidelines will be watching to see what happens in June. That's why this primary matters.”