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    David Campos for the Win!

    Rafael Mandelman

    Rafael Mandelman

    Regular readers of this column may remember that last month I wrote about the Leland Yee fiasco and tried to contextualize it in the larger tragedy of money’s pervasive and growing influence on our politics. As the Roberts Court continues its crusade to eviscerate our campaign finance laws, it becomes ever more important that we elect politicians with the convictions and core to resist the demands of money. I believe David Campos is that kind of politician, and that is one reason I am supporting his candidacy.

    But I will confess that when Campos first told me he would be running for the State Assembly, it was mostly in a spirit of loyal, but grim, resignation that I offered him my support.


    After all, to win the seat, Campos would have to defeat a candidate who—with three terms as president of the Board of Supervisors and a mayoral campaign under his belt—started the race with far more name recognition and far greater fundraising capacity than Campos.

    Yes, to be sure, Campos would win the die-hard progressive vote, but the prospect of a Chiu-Campos showdown seemed destined to follow an all-too-familiar San Francisco pattern of a progressive David challenging a more conservative Goliath, only to lose to Goliath in the end. Veterans of the Hansen, Britt and Mandelman campaigns will have some sense of the narrative running through my brain. Oh God, I thought. Here we go again.

    Happily, I am beginning to think I underestimated Campos. With voting already underway for the June primary, he is running strong, and frankly far stronger than I expected. As anticipated, Chiu has raised more money than Campos, but Campos has held his own, raising more money than any Assembly candidate in California other than Chiu.

    Moreover, he has dominated the battle for organizational endorsements, picking up the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, the San Francisco Labor Council, the California Labor Federation, the San Francisco Women’s Political Committee, the Harvey Milk Democratic Club and the San Francisco Young Democrats, and coming tantalizingly close to winning the Democratic Party endorsement (the Party did not endorse in the end, but Campos seemed to have far more votes than Chiu).

    More importantly, Campos appears to be running a far more effective field campaign. His headquarters is a beehive of activity and his window signs are popping up in homes throughout the District. Now, of course, window signs are not necessarily a good predictor of election results, but I am told that the polling confirms that the once-wide gap between the two candidates has largely closed, with Campos gaining fast.

    And then there is the mail. No one likes negative campaigning, but as someone who has both been a beneficiary and a target of hit mail, I do know two things: 1) it is a necessity for a lesser known candidate attempting to explain the differences between himself and his better-known opponent, and 2) it works. So it was to be expected that Campos would spend some of his resources explaining the differences between the candidates and portraying Chiu in ways that would surely offend his friends and family.

    What I did not expect was that the Chiu campaign would allow Campos to hit them so hard for so long without responding. Campos’ mail has been pretty devastating, painting Chiu as the corporate lobbyists’ “best friend” and re-framing his penchant for compromise—one of Chiu’s strong selling points—as a liability in the corrupt swamp of Sacramento politics. Chiu’s campaign appears to have finally woken up and begun to hit Campos back with some nasty (and quite inaccurate) claims of its own, but it’s all coming about two weeks too late, and in politics, that is a very long time.

    Of course, the primary is only the first round, and these two candidates will continue to slog at it for five more months after the last primary vote is cast. But so far, David Campos has executed nearly perfectly, and it seems to me that David Chiu has stumbled. Who knows? This time, David might actually beat Goliath.

    Rafael Mandelman was elected to the San Francisco Community College Board of Trustees in 2012. He is a partner at Burke, Williams & Sorensen, LLP.