Red Neighborhood, Blue Neighborhood

— With the election approaching, I went looking several weeks ago for bumper stickers that might signal the way San Diego is leaning in the presidential race. My investigation got its impetus from an August 30 posting on by Ivan Jurado, which in turn was a response to Neal Matthews's New York Times story on August 28 called "Left Is Gaining in San Diego, a Rightist Bastion." The focus of Matthews's article was on the decision of Clear Channel to bring Al Franken and other liberal programming to San Diego on AM radio 1360.

Part of Jurado's SanDiego

Blog posting reads: "I have noticed far more Kerry bumper stickers in and around my neighborhood than Dubya tags. As soon as we made our way to the North County and Del Mar, however, I did see an influx of SUVs and beat-up pickup trucks with the 'W '04' decals."

My own glances at the back ends of vehicles did not prove so conclusive. San Diego turns out to be sporting far fewer bumper stickers of either stripe than I expected to encounter. The same went for lawn signs. Either San Diegans dislike that kind of communication or they are loath to admit their presidential preferences in public.

To round out my informal survey, I asked a number of neighborhood locals what they thought.

Three people in Tierrasanta and Scripps Ranch each agreed that few bumper stickers or lawn signs were evident in their neighborhoods. None of them claimed to have noticed any.

Ed West made a similar point about the Collwood area (near 54th and Adams). "There is little indication here about how people feel from a political point of view," he said. "We're on different wavelengths. We talk about things other than politics, like who's sick and who died. Since most of the people that live here are retired, we don't have any young families."

Georgina Tugman lives in the College Area. She too was unsure about where her neighbors stood. "It's because I was never into kaffeeklatsches with the ladies nearby," she told me. "I was always too busy and interested in other things." Tugman and her husband, Len, both former schoolteachers, had a feeling that their neighborhood was more Republican than Democrat, and that surprised them, they said, because of the number of college professors who live there.

The Al Franken show had yet to come to the attention of either West or the Tugmans, although all three were interested in hearing it, and all occasionally listen to KPBS radio. Every once in a while, said West, he listens to Rush Limbaugh, too. But he won't listen to Roger Hedgecock. "I didn't like him as a mayor, although he can indicate his position quite clearly," he said. "I do enjoy politics and watched both conventions. Halfway through Bush's speech I fell asleep and didn't wake up until the balloons dropped. But I fall asleep like that quite often."

Enchantra Phelps said she had noticed lots of Kerry bumper stickers in her Golden Hill neighborhood, but no Bush stickers. The same thing happens, she said, when she drives to the Uptown area, where she has owned and managed the Living Room coffeehouse on University Avenue since spring. "Some kind of official Kerry supporters come in here, buy their coffee, and have their meeting," she said. "I've come to feel part of them."

A year ago, Paul Lare moved to City Heights after living in Normal Heights for 20 years. He is on disability and likes to ride his bike to Lestat's coffeehouse on Adams Avenue in his old neighborhood. Lare said that he hadn't seen many bumper stickers in Normal Heights, but most of the ones he had seen were for Kerry. He thought that the area was leaning toward Kerry.

"Normal Heights is a neighborhood in transition," said Lare. "You have a lot of gentrification, a lot of well-educated people, a lot of professionals, and then you have a large group of working-class, blue-collar people." Unlike their counterparts in Lakeside or Santee, for instance, Lare thought blue-collar folks in Normal Heights would go for Kerry. "The ones in East County," he said, "go to church more and are more likely to go for Bush.

"City Heights, on the other hand, is hard to grasp, because it has so many different identifiable cultural and linguistic groups, people from Asian countries, and people from several different East African countries. So it's hard to predict which way the working class in City Heights is going to vote. The neighborhood is huge, with a large population, and I don't see or talk to them all, of course.

"With small-business owners," he added, "it's different. They are in favor of Bush because of how he projects himself as making things possible for everyone to become an entrepreneur, which is the impression he leaves in their minds. Overall, though, if I had to choose, I feel City Heights leans slightly towards Kerry."

Which brings me back to Ivan Jurado's SanDiegoBlog posting. Since it didn't mention the neighborhood in which Jurado spotted all the Kerry bumper stickers, I contacted him to find out. In response he e-mailed me that the neighborhood was North Park, which "may explain the proliferation of [Kerry '04] stickers. I do, however, work in the downtown area...and haven't seen any Bush stickers in the parking garages, which is extremely strange seeing that there are a number of lawyers and other upwardly mobile professionals there.

"Since the [Republican convention I've seen a few] more Bush stickers in and around the freeways," Jurado continued, "but with one strange coincidence: every fourth car -- they're taped to the inside of the rear window. They don't seem like really committed Repubs. Either that or they worry about botching up their car paint."

The possibility that more Kerry supporters than Bush supporters are driving around San Diego strikes me as unlikely. Something has to be wrong in the observations. Brian Curry of Pacific Beach may have the answer. He, too, has seen more Kerry stickers in his neighborhood and on his way to work near Bankers Hill. "Think about the stickers with the red, white, and blue saying 'Let It Wave,'" said Curry. "Or ones that have images of some figure that looks like he's pissing on Osama bin Laden. Kerry has more bumper stickers in town until you add those in. If you mean stickers that have names on them, then, yeah, Kerry wins."

I thought I'd better look for some military people to make my survey more thorough. In case you've wondered, it doesn't work to walk up to the front gate at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar and ask to speak to Marines. A guard with an M-16 angled down in front of him let me know as much. But he was kind enough to tell me that some Marines like a bar called JD Pub a little to the west, down Miramar Road. I could probably find a few there.

Since it was Labor Day, however, I struck out. But JD Pub's proprietor, Jay Jensen, told me, "By far, most of the Marines that talk politics in here are for Bush. I may have heard a couple of Kerry supporters, but that's all."

Next door is Club Exposé, a "gentleman's club" that advertises "live girls." The club's doorman, Jesse Sunly, said Marines who come there don't talk politics. But he wanted to. "I like Bush because he supports our country; he supports our troops going to war. It was a tough decision doing that. He takes a big stand against terrorism. Kerry doesn't do that. This guy says, 'I voted for the war before I voted against it.' What's he saying, exactly?"

Sunly is 24 but didn't want to be associated with the political views of most young people, "who don't understand what Bush is doing. I'm getting older and understand things better than I used to. These college kids don't understand, yet they're going to be leading our country. One thing they complain about is low-income families fighting the war. But at least the low-income families want to be there, get ahead in the military, and help out the country. It's better than drafting people. In fighting a war like this, you have to have people that want to be there. Because the terrorists are ready to die for their cause."

Martin Brennan came to San Diego from Ireland in 1980. Before arriving, he established himself as a speechwriter for the Fine Gael, which is the second-largest political party in the Republic of Ireland. When Brennan returns to Ireland, often several times each year, he goes back to work for the party. His political work in Ireland gives him a unique perspective on American presidential races.

"I'm having a great time with this particular presidential election," said Brennan, "because a regional radio station in the west of Ireland has asked me to contribute at various intervals my perspective from a Kerry point of view. I do on-air interviews with Galway Bay FM radio. When they ask me for a little balance on some of the conservative or Republican points of view, it's been my pleasure to set the record straight."

A resident of Rancho San Diego, Brennan tends bar at The Ould Sod on Adams Avenue. He lived in Pacific Beach, Allied Gardens, and North Park before moving to East County. The traditional contrast between conservative East County and the more liberal or moderate city of San Diego is not up to date, he thought. "There is tremendous diversity out there that people haven't tapped into yet because they look only at things like upper-income Mount Helix and La Mesa neighborhoods or accusations that the school board is controlled by the Christian right." Brennan believes the reason for the change is that San Diego residents are moving to East County for its less expensive housing.

Brennan had discovered Al Franken's show on AM 1360. "I've quite enjoyed it," he said. "It does bring a little bit of balance to AM radio, which to this point in San Diego has been very conservative. Nevertheless, if you look at these radio stations and the people that are presenting their perspective, they're very biased and they're not terribly informative. One is trying to outdo the other in taking cheap shots. It's all very well for me to say that Al Franken is an outstanding journalist and apply the same rule of thumb to criticize Rush Limbaugh. But all of them are primarily entertainers."

One of the aspects of American politics that amazes the Irish, according to Brennan, is voter apathy. "I think it's particularly important that Americans go out and vote in big numbers," he said. "For participants in a democratic style of government that we are extending to other parts of the world at great cost in lives, injuries, and money, it looks very poor to market that style of government [abroad] when it is treated apathetically at home."

Voter turnout for the current presidential race is likely to be higher than in recent years, Brennan said. So which way did he think that San Diego was leaning in the presidential race? "I've noticed in recent months a definite upsurge in Kerry bumper stickers," he says.

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