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Politics & Policy

Lurie and Farrell capture mayor’s race in one key demo: Republicans 

The image shows a person in a red "Make America Great Again" hat casting a ballot into a box labeled "Democrat." Three people, colored in blue, stand in the background.
Moderate-leaning mayoral candidates all say they won’t seek the endorsement from the Republican party, while leaving room to entertain support from voters across the political spectrum. | Source: AI illustration by Clark Miller for The Standard; Photos by The Standard

For Bill Jackson, a Republican education consultant in San Francisco, voting for a moderate Democrat has become his go-to compromise in local elections.

“Really, what we want is a Republican mayor,” Jackson said. “But we don’t have a realistic candidate.”

Jackson isn’t alone. In the deep blue San Francisco where 64% of registered voters are Democratic Party members, all five top candidates for mayor—incumbent Mayor London Breed, Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Ahsha Safaí, former mayor Mark Farrell and nonprofit founder Daniel Lurie—are dyed-in-the-wool Democrats.

A man in a dark suit sits on a beige sofa in a well-lit living room, with campaign posters spread out on the coffee table in front of him.
Bill Jackson, a Republican education consultant, says he'll back a moderate Democrat in the mayor's race. | Source: Tâm Vũ/The Standard
A hand is adjusting a lapel pin that features crossed American and Californian flags, attached to a dark-colored blazer worn over a white shirt.
With the mayor's race expected to be close, the city's relatively few Republicans could play a role in choosing the winner. | Source: Tâm Vũ/The Standard

This reality leaves Republicans like Jackson with a tough choice between supporting a conservative with no chance of winning or a viable Democrat whose policies they can tolerate. This year’s mayoral race, expected to be highly competitive, could be decided by just a few thousand votes, meaning that local Republicans could play a vital role in choosing the winner.

However, there’s a split within the small world of San Francisco Republicans. Pragmatists who will vote for Democrats appear to be coalescing around Farrell and Lurie, while those who strictly vote Republican won’t consider any Democrats at all. 

“I am a moderate Republican,” Jackson said. “It’s important that one of the moderate Democrats win.”

Farrell, Lurie stand out

Jackson, who co-founded the moderate-leaning Briones Society, represents the centrist wing of his party. He told The Standard that he’s considering voting for Farrell and Lurie as his top two choices, saying Breed’s five years as mayor have been unimpressive. 

Among the top five mayoral candidates, Farrell, Breed and Lurie are considered moderate Democrats, while Peskin is progressive. Safaí has taken moderate positions on some matters but has tacked progressive in his mayoral campaign.

Five people stand behind podiums on a stage, participating in what appears to be a debate or panel discussion.
All five leading candidates for San Francisco mayor are Democrats, leaving Republicans to choose between a longshot conservative or a moderate Democrat. | Source: Camille Cohen for The Standard

Other Republicans share Jackson’s strategy: Since there’s no viable Republican candidate, they’ll back a moderate Democrat in San Francisco to block “Mayor Peskin,” Jackson said.

Nick Berg, a property management firm executive and a Briones Society member, is a former Democrat who switched parties over frustration with San Francisco’s crime, homelessness and drug crises. He said he plans to rank the three moderate Democrats on his ballot.

“I haven’t decided the order,” Berg said.

Jennifer Yan, a Briones Society member and the top winner of the local Republican Party’s board election in March, said she also preferred Farrell and Lurie. Yan said Farrell’s ideas, such as cracking down on crime and reopening Market Street to cars, are more “in touch” with  moderate Chinese voters. Lurie has a friendly personality, she added.

Rodney Leong, a vice-chair of the Republican party, said he voted for Breed before but this time Lurie and Farrell may be his top two choices. He also said it’s not unusual for San Francisco Republicans to vote for Democrats.

“It’s a non-partisan office, so we can endorse anyone we want,” Leong said. “It’s about what the candidate brings to the table.”

An awkward dance with Republican voters

Jason McDaniel, an associate professor of political science at San Francisco State University, said that both Lurie and Farrell may have some selling points for Republicans.

For example, Lurie, who has framed himself as a City Hall “outsider,” could appeal to some long-marginalized Republicans. Farrell’s image as a tough-on-crime businessman could make him an acceptable choice by some Republicans, too.

Two people, a man in a suit and tie, and a woman in a blue outfit, are standing behind podiums on a stage, speaking, against a black background.
Mayor London Breed and Daniel Lurie are both considered moderate Democrats. | Source: Camille Cohen for The Standard
A man in a dark suit and white shirt is giving a speech, gesturing with one hand up. A flag is seen in the background, and a presentation slide is partially visible.
Mayoral candidate Mark Farrell, a tough-on-crime businessman, may hold appeal for local Republican voters. | Source: Adahlia Cole for The Standard

McDaniel added that in a close race, the city’s Republican voters could have an influence on the eventual winner. However, turnout in November is likely to be high and he expects campaigns to focus largely on liberal or left-leaning voters.

“If any of the campaigns are targeting [Republican] voters, that’s probably not a waste of money,” McDaniel said, “but it’s a relatively low cost-benefit ratio.”

In a city where Republicans haven’t won any major races for decades, top Democrats appear to have little interest in building cross-party support. In San Francisco politics, association with Republicans is a common line of attack. 

Asked whether they would seek the Republican Party’s endorsement, Breed, Lurie and Farrell responded similarly, saying they wouldn’t seek the endorsement while leaving room to entertain support from voters across the political spectrum. 

Breed’s campaign said she “can find common ground and work with anyone,” while Farrell’s campaign said he will “be a mayor that represents all San Franciscans and our shared values.” Lurie’s campaign said he “has always been about bringing people into the fold, not pushing them away.”

Peskin’s campaign said he won’t seek Republican support. Safaí’s campaign didn’t respond by press time.

Although the Briones Society may recommend one or several Democrats for mayor— likely Farrell or Lurie as top choices—it’s less likely that the San Francisco Republican Party will officially endorse a Democrat for mayor. Briones Society swept the March election for the Republican County Central Committee, but they will take office in 2025.

John Dennis, the party’s current chair, said he hasn’t made up his mind yet but doubted that the group will endorse a Democrat. He predicted the party will endorse no one, not even a Republican candidate.

Both the local Republican Party and Briones Society will start their endorsement process in July or August.

Loyal to the party

Although moderate-leaning Republicans may back Democrats, some of the city’s right-wing loyalists are staying with the party lines.

Currently, among 13 qualified candidates, the only Republican with some level of name recognition is Ellen Lee Zhou, a far-right Trump supporter.

Zhou, a potential wild card in the race, won 24,667 first-choice votes in 2019 when she ran for mayor, about 14% of the total. She hasn’t decided who will be her second and third choices, but said Lurie may be better at reforming City Hall and cast the others as career politicians.

A person in a white suit and red cap stands in a festive room full of people wearing similar caps, facing a stage with a speaker.
Ellen Lee Zhou, a MAGA Republican, has little chance of winning but could play spoiler in the mayor's race. | Source: Paul Kuroda for The Standard
The image shows a red baseball cap with "TRUMP" in white letters, followed by "Agenda 47 * Ask me about it" embroidered underneath.
Republicans make up less than 8% of registered voters in San Francisco. | Source: Paul Kuroda for The Standard

Grace (Iok) Tse, a Chinese immigrant Republican voter and Sunset District resident, told The Standard that she’s voting for Zhou and won’t rank any Democrats.

“I won’t consider any Democrats,” she said in Cantonese. “It doesn’t matter if Zhou can win or not. We try our best.”

Tse said that she used to support moderate Democrats but grew disillusioned, describing the differences among them as “old wine in a new bottle.”

Monika Rothenbuhler, the vice chair of the San Francisco Republican Party, described the five leading mayoral candidates as “the gang of five.”

The image shows the logo of the Republican Party of San Francisco. It features a red elephant with three white stars on a blue background, encircled by text.
The Republican Party of San Francisco may end up endorsing no one in the mayor's race. | Source: The Standard

“I will not vote for a Democrat,” Rothenbuhler said. “I will vote for Ellen.”

Rothenbuhler said she respects some of her fellow Republicans’ choices to vote for the “least offensive” Democrats, and understands that the city’s ranked-choice voting allows her to vote for multiple choices, but isn’t making compromises on her partisan preference.

Jacob Spangler, a 23-year-old San Francisco State University student and a leader of the campus Republican group, said he plans to vote for Zhou and is disappointed with the city’s divisive politics.

“There’s not enough bipartisanship in the city,” Spangler said. “I understand some of our left-leaning members. However, why are we the ones to compromise?”

It’s nearly impossible that Democratic Party candidates will reach out to Zhou for a ranked-choice strategy, but Zhou extended an olive branch anyway.

“If I win,” Zhou said, “I will hire all of them.”