By Gil Duran
Matt Haney’s victory over David Campos in the race for Assembly District 17 came as no surprise. But even some of Haney’s supporters were stunned by his massive 25-point margin of victory.
Haney crushed Campos, 62% to 37%. When a politician loses this big, it’s not just the end of the campaign. It’s usually the end of a career.
Someone apparently forgot to tell Campos and his supporters, though. The day after the election, they were still sniping, slandering Haney’s victory as ill-begotten and portraying San Francisco voters as dummies who got fooled into voting for him.
“Big win for @CAREALTORS in last night’s special election, strengthening their grip on the state legislature,” tweeted District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston, blaming real estate money for Campos’ defeat. “We will continue to organize locally against their ongoing efforts to purge San Francisco of poor and working class residents.”
“Another day, another Dean ratio,” replied state Sen. Scott Wiener, mocking Preston’s tweet for receiving mostly negative feedback.
Preston’s gripe echoed Campos’ own election night excuse for losing.
“You have monied interests that are trying to essentially buy San Francisco and, quite frankly, buy elections,” Campos told supporters at El Rio. “And I am sorry to say that tonight it seems that they were in fact successful.”
Boos filled the air.
Money certainly helps campaigns, but it doesn’t always win them. In 2010, billionaire Meg Whitman spent $178 million to lose to Jerry Brown. In 2020, Joe Biden bested two self-funding billionaires, along with self-described billionaire Donald Trump, to become president.
Why couldn’t Campos, a well-known political figure in The City, make it a race?
“Matt just built a really broad coalition,” said Haney campaign spokesperson Elizabeth Power. “He brought together people who rarely are on the same sides of issues. He had progressive support, he had YIMBY support, he had labor support. He had support from more moderate politicians and he had support from very progressive politicians. We ran a really positive campaign and communicated with voters about the issues and talked about real solutions to the problems that people are worried about right now in San Francisco.”
With his big lead over Campos, Haney had the breathing room to run a positive campaign. Campos, on the other hand, took a scorched earth approach against his former ally. The desperate antics backfired.
For example, Campos labeled Haney as the “Tenderloin supervisor” in an attempt to tie Haney to the long-festering crime and poverty issues in his district. Haney responded by expressing pride in his status as the Tenderloin’s representative, and he won there by over 30 points.
Throughout the race, Campos portrayed Haney as the chosen candidate of billionaires and oligarchs. This led to an unfortunate moment in which Campos compared his campaign struggle to that of the Ukrainian freedom fighters struggling under Russian bombs.
Campos only got bombarded by negative ads – produced by an independent expenditure committee funded to the tune of $600,000 by the California Association for Realtors – in support of Haney. Predictably, the ads reminded voters of Campos’ close ties to District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who is facing a June recall election.
Campos, in an odd move, took a leave of absence from his job as chief of staff to the DA to run for Assembly despite the recall threat against his boss. This bad bet delivered major defeat – and an ill omen for Boudin, who actually is fighting against right-wing billionaire money.
It’s silly for Campos, Preston and their ilk to portray Haney as moderate or conservative. He’s undeniably a super-progressive politician who would be considered far-left anywhere else. He supports taxing the wealthy, champions criminal justice reform and stands up for the rights of LGBTQ and immigrant communities. He also opposes the recall against Boudin – decidedly not a Republican stance.
There was barely any daylight between the ideological positions of the two candidates. So, what explains Haney’s overwhelming triumph? Has The City’s electorate shifted to the right? Is this part of a big conspiracy to undo progressive power in San Francisco? Nah.
Haney was simply the better candidate. He campaigned like an old-fashioned San Francisco Democrat. He built the winning coalition. He had a sunnier disposition, glad-handing even his detractors and projecting a positive outlook despite the challenges in his district. And he read the room, focusing his campaign on the housing crisis.
In a city where loud voices like to kill new housing, Haney forged a reputation as someone willing to buck the anti-housing superstition and find workable compromises to a pressing issue. That’s what good legislators do.
Some see Haney’s alliance with the militantly pro-housing YIMBY movement as cynical opportunism, but it’s a logical evolution for someone who has seen firsthand the ravages of our failure to build enough housing. With most of San Francisco’s housing development taking place in his supervisorial district, Haney had no choice but to engage.
That said, let’s not forget how he trounced two YIMBY-backed candidates, including YIMBY leader Sonja Trauss, in the 2018 race for the Board of Supervisors.
“Matt’s campaign had more money,” whined Trauss after Haney won with 63% of the vote in a race the SF Weekly described as a “YIMBY litmus test.”
This time around, Haney had more money and the full backing of the pro-housing movement. Because smart politicians seek to address urgent issues while increasing their base of support.
“From the beginning, Haney in his campaign drove a strong contrast on housing, which is the No. 1 issue in San Francisco,” Jim Ross, a veteran Bay Area political consultant, told The Examiner’s Benjamin Schneider.
Campos couldn’t do that. He got bogged down in a dusty old leftist dogma that equates new housing with wicked capitalism. He had no moves beyond doubling down on identity politics, negative attacks and the false promise of an affordable housing-only utopia he had no ability to deliver.
In a way, Campos was actually the conservative in the race, trapped by failed ideological stances, rooted in the past, unable to shift due to the zealous and inflexible nature of a shrunken base. This allowed his nimble challenger – a white dude – to run as the agent of change.
Contrary to rumors that he sold his soul to the devil, Haney will be one of the most progressive members of the California State Assembly. It probably won’t be long before the California Association of Realtors, which spent heavily to support him, feels abused and betrayed.
After all, Haney supports rent control – the bane of the real estate lobby’s existence – and will undoubtedly be down with whatever progressive taxation bill comes down the pike. He’ll probably even author the damn thing.
Oh, Haney’s a progressive, all right. The winning kind, not the whining kind.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that the California Association of Realtors spent $600,000 in support of Haney.