[Disclosure: I worked GOTV for the Faulconer campaign]
The city of San Diego went to President Obama in 2012 with 62.7% of the two party vote. Yet Republican Kevin Faulconer not only won the mayoral race on Tuesday, he won it by 9 points. Republicans are touting this as a major GOP triumph and possible comeback, while Democrats are dismissing it as low turnout and an office Republicans have held for most of the last 20 years. Some on both sides are stressing that Faulconer won because he wasn't a fire breathing hardcore conservative. There may be some truth in all of this, but there's a lot more to the win.
Yes, the Republican party has won the San Diego mayoral race for most of the last 20 years. So this isn't new territory. But a lot has changed in San Diego since then. There are a lot more Democrats in San Diego than there used to be an the Democrats have a big registration advantage. Yes, there was low turnout but absentee ballots, those that favored Faulconer the most, were more Democratic than Republican. People have heaped dirt on the California GOP, but this election shows that Republicans in California can win where Barack Obama got 62.7% of the Federal vote. This marks the second time in a year that Republicans have won an area Barack Obama won with 62%+ of the vote. The GOP nearly won a 65% Obama assembly district in the fall. You simply can't judge a district's competitiveness based on Obama-Romney Presidential numbers.
The Democrats outspent the GOP here and had more ground troops getting out the vote. But this is traditionally Republican turf. It's where Republicans win because they know how to win here. Winning an election on what used to be red turf isn't a sign of a big Republican comeback, only that the Republican party still has life in it and won't be rolled by the Democrats. Democrats will do better in high turnout November elections, with a Presidential year being the best. But every election isn't in November and Democrats will have to get votes in the June primary to avoid Top Two disasters like CA-31 in 2012. If this election tells me one thing it's that despite heavy spending and a strong ground operation Democrats can't turn out voters in elections they traditionally don't vote in. If that's their plan for June, they will be surprised again.