Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, who hopes to be San Diego's next mayor, announced Wednesday he has decided to leave the Republican Party to become an independent.
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Fletcher, trailing his opponents in recent polls, announced his decision in a video clip posted on his campaign website, nathanfletcher.com. He said he has been struggling with the decision for "some time."
"Today I am leaving the Republican Party and becoming an independent," Fletcher said in the clip. "In my heart, I believe it's what's right and what best reflects my values. I also believe it's what's right for our city moving forward ..."
Alluding to the contentious nature of the current political climate, he added: "I don't believe we have to treat people we disagree with as an enemy."
Fletcher, who served a decade in the Marine Corps, currently represents the 75th Assembly District. He is running to replace Mayor Jerry Sanders, who will be termed out.
The job, like all San Diego municipal offices, is nonpartisan.
"The people's interest will be my interest and not what some party insider wants me to do," Fletcher said during a mid-morning news conference at the Embarcadero.
Other mayoral candidates in the June 5 primary include Councilman Carl DeMaio, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, Rep. Bob Filner (D- San Diego), and Tobiah Pettus, the owner of web-based businesses. All but Filner are Republicans.
"From my time as a watchdog who helped uncover the city's financial problems to my leadership on ending sweetheart deals at City Hall, I have taken on powerful insiders from both political parties to fight for reform on behalf of taxpayers," DeMaio said Wednesday. "That's why my campaign has attracted the broadest and deepest level of support from Democrats, Republicans and independents alike -- and I look forward to reaching across all political parties to finish the job of reform."
Dumanis issued a statement saying San Diego needs a mayor who is tough, calm and steady when things heat up.
"When you're in a tough spot, you stick to your principles," she said. "You stay true to who you are, you don't panic, you don't get desperate."
The county's top prosecutor said she has worked to build relationships throughout the county regardless of political affiliation.
At a forum held on Wednesday, mayoral candidate and U.S. Rep. Bob Filner took a quick jab at Fletcher's change of heart.
"Two out of the three Republican candidates... I'm sorry, all the Republican candidates," he said.
Filner's joke garnered much laughter and applause.
Later, it was no laughing matter. Fletcher lashed out at DeMaio's campaign, claiming they viciously attacked him while he was running as a Republican, which Fletcher believes ultimately cost him the Republican endorsement.
"You took a far-right extreme family values scorecard and you touted it as the reason that they should not support me and should support you," said Fletcher.
When DeMaio was given a chance to respond, the audience yelled back with many calling him a liar.
"I'm going to make something very perfectly clear," said DeMaio. "I have never criticized any of my opponents for their position on social issues."
But Fletcher's decision was quickly blasted by the right and left.
Fletcher ran for state office with the support of conservative Republicans, said Jess Durfee, the chairman of the Democratic Party in San Diego.
"Make no mistake, there's nothing independent about him. He rubs elbows with Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich and Pete Wilson; he's a Republican," said Durfee.
On Wednesday afternoon, San Diego Republican Party Chairman Tony Krvaric issued the following statement:
"Eighteen days ago Nathan Fletcher came before the Republican Party to seek our endorsement. This morning, he demonstrated why he was not endorsed by the Republican Party ... It is impossible to trust Nathan Fletcher, because he isn't about ideas, principles or solutions. Today's move is all about his own personal ambition for higher office, nothing more ... This is pandering at its worst. One wonders if he would have re-registered if he had been successful in blocking or receiving the endorsement."
Political analyst Carl Luna said he was surprised by the switch, but added it is a good tactical move.
"Nathan Fletcher took a candidacy that may have been lagging in the polls and given it new life," said Luna.
Luna added, "He was getting no traction against Carl DeMaio who got the Republican endorsement so this may be his one chance to bleed off some Filner support and some Dumanis support."
The most recent poll, released last weekend by U-T San Diego, showed Dumanis and Fletcher tied with 10 percent support behind DeMaio, with 24 percent, and Filner, with 20 percent.
The results similar to those of previous surveys of voter sentiment.
"If Mr. Fletcher had gotten his party's endorsement, I highly doubt he would have switched affiliation. But since the Republicans didn't have a seat for him at the table, he's creating his own table," said Luna.
The top two vote-getters will meet in a runoff in November.
Fletcher said he received some 400 emails in the morning from the announcement, with only three of them being negative.
Fletcher said, "I think people are tired of the partisanship, they're tired of the poll tests and sound bites and slogans and tired of people not working together."
The San Diego Police Officers Association affirmed its endorsement of Fletcher, but the San Diego Log Cabin Republicans withdrew theirs because the organization's bylaws call for an endorsee to be a GOP member.
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