Robinson: The best of the San Jose mayor’s race
San Jose voter Patricia Giron casts her vote on Tuesday, June 7. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Cindy Chavez will face Matt Mahan in the race for mayor of San Jose. On a purely result basis, these two had the best campaigns; for winning is the only measure of real success in politics.

That said, viewing the campaigns on an empirical level, certain candidates used different strategies and tactics. The following is the best of what we saw.

Television: Chavez, Mahan and Raul Peralez used television to get their message out. Frankly, none of the spots were grabbers. But the messages were conveyed. Peralez was up on TV earliest and the buy was well-timed. So the award for best television coverage would go to his campaign.

Social Media: We all know from social media Mahan got the Mercury News endorsement. While Chavez and Dev Davis had presence on social media, their use was far less effective. The Mahan campaign was clearly superior.

Field Campaign: Again, the Mahan campaign was superior in this aspect of the election. His walk program was spectacular. Mahan sent personal notes to voters and his team targeted his areas correctly. Chavez had the second best field campaign, but it was much more traditional.

Texting: Davis wins this category hands down. With fewer resources, her text messaging was superior to any other candidate in the race.

Mail: The best mail campaign goes not to a candidate, but to the South Bay Labor Council. Not only were their messages pithy and effective, but the timing was outstanding.

Mail in support of Chavez arrived simultaneously with ballot deliveries. The day after the shooting in Texas, a public safety piece arrived, touting Chavez’s record on fighting crime. While the independent expenditure committee could not have predicted the tragedy, the message resonated on a day when 19 children were killed in another community.

Finally, her campaign’s mail strategy was simple. It outlined the message to be delivered and even a nonplussed voter who tosses their mail could not miss it.

Signs: Really, who cares? No one ever voted because of a sign.

Chavez wins best overall campaign for three significant reasons. First and most importantly, she won. Second, her use of third party validation: the entire Democratic congressional delegation, the Democratic Party, former Silicon Valley business leader Carl Guardino and even an endorsement from the legendary and beloved former Mayor Norm Mineta.

Last and not unimportant was the Chavez message. In these complex times, reducing your message to bite sizes the public can remember is the most difficult process.

Chavez was able to get three major points across the board. First, she led the effort on the successful pandemic response in Santa Clara County. A note here, normally voters care little about what you did and more about what you are going to do. But Chavez’s actions in leading the county saved lives and that matters.

Second, while all the candidates talked about homelessness and housing, the Chavez campaign connected the dots to crime. Housing the homeless will make San Jose a safer community, and she was able to pivot the entire housing debate to crime which personally affects everyone.

Last, is Cindy Chavez herself. She is a poised, tactful and engaging person. Regardless of where she went or who met with her, she picked up votes with just her personality. She speaks authentically and understands her audience. Political professionals can help with all the other stuff, but Chavez’s personal demeanor cannot be changed.

Honorable mention goes to Matt Mahan’s campaign.  His message of “change” did resonate with many voters. The problem he has is, it is difficult to convince people you want change when your support comes from the current status quo.

It will be an interesting few months as both Chavez and Mahan present their visions for mayor.

San José Spotlight columnist Rich Robinson is a political consultant, attorney and author of “The Shadow Candidate.”

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