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— 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 SanDiegoBlog.com 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."

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