Sam Abed was looking forward to an easy win in the June primary to challenge incumbent Dave Roberts for the 3rd District seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.
The Republican mayor of Escondido had the old guard of the party solidly behind him. He won the official endorsement of the county GOP, and counted in his camp such old-school party republican stalwarts as congressmen Darrell Issa and Duncan Hunter, Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall and three conservative council members, and Oceanside councilmen Jerry Kern and Jack Feller (Carlsbad and Oceanside aren’t even in the district).
A 12-year veteran of Escondido politics, Abed also felt he was running against a novice, Kristin Gaspar, who served just one term on the Encinitas City Council before becoming the city’s first elected mayor in November 2014. During candidate forums, whenever Gaspar criticized Abed, he was quick to tell reporters, “She’s desperate. She’s trailing in the polls. She’s so far behind me.”
But in the end, Abed was slaughtered, minced, sliced and diced by Gaspar, with the young Encinitas mayor getting 23 percent more votes that the Escondido veteran. Abed blames it on a big infusion of money that flowed into Gaspar’s campaign the final weeks of primary season.
In a most ungracious concession statement, posted on his Facebook page a day after the June 7 election, Abed wrote, “Thanks to our team, volunteers & supporters for helping us run an excellent campaign. San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce PAC & special interests put $.6 million to buy this election. This will only help Dave Roberts maintain a critical county seat in November. What a shame! Back to serving the great city of Escondido.”
The money may have helped, but in truth Abed did himself in. He ingratiated himself to the old-guard GOP in North County but failed to take into account that a huge chunk of District 3 was in the city of San Diego. There, Gaspar early on lined up endorsements from moderate republican city council members Mark Kersey and Chris Cate, former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, and present Mayor Kevin Faulconer — who on June 7 won re-election outright, in a Democratic city, against not one but two Democratic opponents.
Abed also couldn’t come out of character. He’s a stereotypical small town mayor who talks a lot, takes credit for everything good that happens in his city, doesn’t always follow the rules and can be a bully on the dais. The board of supervisors has long been known for its good, even-tempered governance. Abed simply wouldn’t have fit in.
Gaspar, by contrast, is smart, pleasant, witty and personable. She gets along with people and has shown time and time again her ability to have a calm, reasoned discussion with her colleagues on the city council. She may not always agree with them, but she never lets anything get personal. Gaspar also listens to her constituents and treats everyone with respect. Sadly, the same cannot be said of Abed.
Abed also wore his party affiliation like a badge, proudly invoking the name of Ronald Reagan and emphasizing his GOP creds. In an era of outsider politics — Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders — this, too, may have come back to bite him, particularly since the board of supervisors is a supposedly nonpartisan race.
The national repudiation of establishment party politics hit home two years ago when Steve Vaus challenged longtime GOP incumbent Don Higginson for Poway mayor – and won the county party’s support. One veteran republican officeholder at the time told me what Vaus had done was tantamount to treason. “Don hasn’t done anything wrong,” he argued.
He was right. Higginson had been a loyal party foot soldier ever since he first won election to the Poway City Council in 1986. His tenure was marked by neither scandal nor controversy; it was business as usual, party-dictates-policy.
But that’s not what people in North County want anymore. The times have changed. Partisan hacks are out; thoughtful newcomers who answer to the people, not to any particular party, are in.
That’s why Vaus endorsed Gaspar — like him, she’s of the people, and for the people. Yes, Gaspar is a republican, and she will most likely get the party’s support. But just as she wasn’t the party’s first choice, Gaspar has always answered to the people, first and foremost.
That’s why she won.
Thomas K. Arnold is a veteran San Diego journalist who throughout the 80s and 90s wrote for the San Diego County Edition of the Los Angeles Times, the San Diego Reader and San Diego Magazine. He has won numerous awards from the San Diego Press Club and the San Diego Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Arnold is currently publisher and editorial director of Home Media Magazine, a weekly trade publication serving the $20 billion home entertainment industry. He is a former City of Carlsbad planning commissioner, editorial editor and editorial writer for U-T San Diego, and columnist for U-T San Diego and the North County Times.