Jerry Sanders’ Campaign for Mayor of San Diego

Background Mayor Dick Murphy’s announcement on April 25, 2005 that he would resign his office effective July 1 caught much of San Diego’s political establishment – and the local media – by surprise.

TS&A met with Jerry Sanders three days later to discuss his candidacy and explain the likely challenges, including the fact that he had never before sought public office, had no established network of campaign donors, and would have only 12 weeks to undertake a campaign before the July 26 special primary election.

Strategy (Primary) Knowing Sanders would be at a disadvantage to self-funded candidate Steve Francis, who had the resources to begin campaigning immediately, and to council member Donna Frye, who was better-known and just a few months earlier had narrowly lost a write-in campaign to Murphy, TS&A recommended a pre-emptive earned media strategy designed to increase public awareness of Sanders and his background, while reinforcing his position as an outsider in the race for mayor.

Results For four weeks in May, while his opponents were still planning their campaigns, Sanders defined his candidacy for voters, creating an image that eventually carried him to election as San Diego’s first strong mayor. We estimate the campaign earned approximately $2 million worth of media coverage during the month of May 2005, making Sanders’ under-funded primary campaign competitive with his opponents, and enabling his campaign to conserve limited resources for paid media over the final two weeks prior to the July 26 special election.

Strategy (Run-Off)
Finishing second to Frye in the primary, despite being outspent by a margin of over 4-to-1 by Francis, Sanders moved quickly to solidify support among former Francis voters while drawing clear distinctions between himself and opponent Frye. This included an aggressive fundraising effort that ultimately produced over $1 million in less than 12 weeks, and a rapid-response media strategy that left no charge unanswered and held his opponent accountable for her votes and conduct as a member of the city council. Successful fundraising efforts permitted the campaign to purchase three weeks of television advertising and produce direct mail for both absentee and election-day voters.

Sanders overcame a 16-point primary deficit to defeat Frye 54-46, successfully carrying his base of Republican voters and 5 of 8 council districts (including Frye’s), but also showing considerable strength in council districts 4 and 8 which contain large numbers of Democratic and ethnic voters.

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