Heeding two powerful forces moving voters this year--a yearning for economic growth and a tendency to look to political outsiders to provide it--San Diego mayoral candidates Susan Golding and Peter Navarro have carefully repackaged themselves, creating images that sometimes shade their records and resumes.
Navarro, who rose to political prominence by advocating managed-growth ballot initiatives widely criticized as constraints on economic development, has turned that record on its head by labeling himself the "jobs candidate" in his Nov. 3 runoff with Golding.
Recognizing his non-incumbency as the highest card in his political hand in a year marked by escalating public antipathy toward officeholders, Navarro also repeatedly characterizes himself as "an agent of change" at campaign forums. The word "change" appears so frequently in Navarro's public remarks, in fact, that it has become a kind of political talisman for his campaign.
"I'm the candidate of change," Navarro said at one recent debate. "The city needs change, the state needs change, the country needs change, and I'm going to give you change."
Golding, meanwhile, has had to approach that issue from a more defensive posture simply because she is an incumbent, albeit as a two-term San Diego County supervisor, not at City Hall.
While going to lengths to emphasize that she is not a city elected official, Golding has performed a delicate balancing act--citing her governmental experience as an asset in finding solutions to economic and other problems, even while urging voters to, in essence, not hold her incumbency against her.
"People want change, as I do, but you're not necessarily going to get it by turning to someone without experience," Golding said in an interview.
"Experience can help to bring about change more quickly and efficiently. I've seen government from the inside, so I know what works and what doesn't. Seeing what's broke from the inside makes it easier to fix it. . . . Besides, at City Hall, I will be an outsider."
With one line that has turned up with increasing frequency in her recent speeches, Golding simultaneously attempts to deflect anti-incumbency sentiment and chip away at Navarro's potential benefits as a political outsider.
"The city is a complex, $1-billion-a-year corporation," Golding tells campaign audiences. "You don't make someone the CEO of a billion-dollar corporation when he hasn't even been to the mail room yet. Experience does count and it does matter."
From Navarro's perspective, Golding's recent rhetoric suggests that she hopes to frame the mayoral campaign along strategic lines similar to those seen in the presidential race, where President Bush has raised the issue of trust in an effort to undermine Democratic nominee Bill Clinton's appeal as a Washington outsider.
"A trust-versus-outsider campaign isn't going to work here," Navarro predicts. "The problem that the Golding campaign has is that I'm obviously the symbol of change, but people don't trust her all that much. Change just isn't a credible message for her, because nobody's going to buy the idea of change from a career politician who's been in office 10 years. People are fed up with the status quo. She is the status quo."
Aware that the political cachet of being an outsider could be diminished if it is perceived as inexperience, Navarro has burnished his resume--notably, his career as a business school professor with a doctorate in economics and his longtime activism on growth and other policy matters. In doing so, Navarro said, he hopes to persuade voters to view him as "an outsider who knows how the inside game is played."
"I don't concede that Golding has more experience in the important part of the job--public policy decisions--as opposed to just politics," Navarro said.
In trying to outmaneuver each other on that pivotal issue, the two candidates sometimes go to comical lengths. Lest anyone forget that his opponent is an incumbent, Navarro underlines the point by continually referring to her as "Supervisor Golding." Just as incessantly, Golding calls him "Professor Navarro," hoping, apparently, that the public reserves as much disdain for academicians as it does for politicians.
Beyond artfully positioning Golding as, in the words of her campaign manager, Dan McAllister, someone "with an outsider's instincts and an insider's knowledge," her top aides have blended wishful thinking with strategy in addressing that issue.
The political outsider phenomenon, they argue, peaked early this summer during the height of speculation over whether Texas billionaire Ross Perot would mount an independent presidential campaign. By deciding not to run after his protracted, intensely public political flirtation, Perot not only frustrated and disappointed his supporters, but also may have prompted many other voters to reassess the experience-versus-outsider question that has evolved into a crucial dynamic in Campaign '92, Golding aides suggest.