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Barbara Bry’s surprise comeback in San Diego mayor’s race fueled by Democratic presidential primary

Barbara Bry stands on a patio deck of a home that over looks Rose Canyon. Beside being a candidate for San Diego mayor, La Jolla resident Barbara Bry has served as the San Diego City Council member representing District 1 since 2017.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Other possible factors were city council member’s popularity with independents and changes in election laws

District 1 San Diego City Council member and La Jolla resident Barbara Bry pulled off a surprising comeback to pass District 7 City Council member Scott Sherman for the second slot in the upcoming November 2020 runoff for San Diego mayor against State Assembly member Todd Gloria.

The morning after the March 3 primary, Bry trailed Sherman by 3,063 votes. But she gained ground on Sherman each day, in 15 consecutive updates by the county Registrar of Voters, based on late-arriving ballots. Now she leads Sherman by 1,001 votes.
Bry’s campaign consultant and a local political scientist both said this week that her comeback is a remarkable story fueled by the hotly contested Democratic presidential primary and by Bry’s growing appeal to voters, especially independents.

Other factors in her gains were the relatively new state election laws softening restrictions on mail ballots and requiring officials to count those ballots even if they arrive three days after Election Day.

“I would say it’s remarkable,” said Vince Vasquez, executive director of a politics and policy think tank called the Policycraft Institute. “It was a steady, growing climb.”

Vasquez said a key factor was clearly the Democratic presidential battle, which prompted many more Democrats than Republicans to delay mailing their ballots until the last possible moment.

And waiting proved to be a smart move, because two prominent presidential candidates — Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar — shook up the race by dropping out two days before the California primary and endorsing former Vice President Joe Biden.

“People were waiting to see if their candidate was still in the race,” Vasquez said by phone. “They didn’t want to have a wasted vote.”

But Vasquez said there was clearly more to the story. Bry gaining so steadily and consistently in every vote update shows she had more widespread support than just from her council district, which is mostly white and wealthy.

“It’s a come-from-behind win that shows her support extends beyond homeowners in La Jolla and Carmel Valley,” he said. “Late voters are generally younger voters who are more diverse.”

Tom Shepard, Bry’s campaign consultant, said one key to her comeback was independent voters requesting Democratic “provisional” ballots at the polls on Election Day.

Shepard said such ballots made up most of the late-arriving votes that the registrar added to candidate totals in the days after the March 3 primary.

“I told our supporters that I anticipated we would gain consistently,” Shepard said by phone this week.

On March 5, Shepard sent an email to supporters with the subject line “We’re not Done Yet” that included his reasons for optimism.

“Many Democrats delayed returning their absentee ballots to ensure they were able to make an informed choice in the Democratic presidential primary,” he wrote. “Suggestions that the outcome has already been decided are extremely premature.”

Other factors were two state laws, one approved in 2018 that allows mail voters to send their ballots in without a stamp, and another approved in 2014 that allows voters to mail their ballot on Election Day and have it counted as long as it arrives no more than three days later.

Bry’s gains on Sherman were steady and consistent.

She shrank Sherman’s lead from 3,063 votes to 2,140 votes on March 5; and then to 2,019 on March 6; 1,701 on March 7; 1,264 on March 8; 903 on March 9; 836 on March 10; 758 on March 11; 678 on March 12, and 337 on March 13.

Then on March 16, Bry pulled ahead by nine votes, increased that to 169 on March 17; 444 last Wednesday, 522 last Thursday and 656 last Friday.

And then this Monday she increased her lead to 1,001 votes.

There are now only 5,000 late-arriving countywide ballots left to be counted — less than 2 percent of the 350,000 that were remaining the morning after the primary.

It is not known how many of the 5,000 are from city voters. The registrar said the next update would come at 5 p.m. Friday “or later.”

Sherman’s campaign consultant said the councilman won’t seek a recount.