By Alexander Lomax
It is nearly a year away from election season, and making predictions this far out is a complete fool’s errand nearly all of the time. And yet, here I am playing the fool with a strong degree of confidence:
Mayor Dave Ortega is all but certain to win re-election.
How can I say this so confidently? Of course, there are a number of different reasons why. One big part is the numbers: recent polling has shown him in a very strong position, with nearly a 3-to-1 favorability-to-unfavorability rating. With name identification numbers nearing 80% in the city (i.e. nearly everyone knows him) and about three times more people like him than dislike him? Those numbers speak for themselves.
Contrast that against a rumored opponent, Councilwoman Tammy Caputi. Both her favorability and unfavorability numbers were in the teens. When the citizenry knows your opponent and likes them but doesn’t know you? That’s a difficult point of weakness to come back from, one that another rumored opponent, Linda Milhaven, will likely need to overcome as well.
From a more qualitative perspective however, it is worth noting how well Ortega has seemed to capture and reflect the zeitgeist of the moment. When it came to water, his protectionist policies regarding favoring Scottsdalians over the Rio Verde Foothills demonstrated a Scottsdale First ethos that may have irked other politicians but demonstrated a fighting spirit on behalf of the city. Similarly, his demands for quality over quantity when it comes to development were both a fulfillment of campaign promises and in-line with the desires of the more vocal local activists. Traffic concerns are also front-of-mind for voters, and save tacit support for “road diets”, his disdain for height and density in new developments falls perfectly in line with the want of voters.
Be it an uncannily accurate finger on the pulse of the voters, a spell of good timing and luck, or (in my opinion) a combination of both, it has worked. His fighting nature helps cover his right flank and alleviates a weakness from his 2020 election: appealing to Republican voters. And without a major negative catalyst, it is difficult to see how voters reverse course.
That’s not to say that it will be easy. Probable competitor Lisa Borowsky is very likely to consolidate the support of the local GOP establishment, and as such Ortega will likely be outgunned in both fundraising and in the ground game, as volunteers will likely be out in fuller force mentioning Borowsky with Trump than Democrats will mentioning Ortega with Biden. But will it matter? Strong Republicans will bias towards Borowsky, but what can be said to undecided, “low information” voters that will get them to want to change course? After all, voters need a reason to oust an incumbent, and for most people Ortega simply hasn’t provided that reason.
Mayor Ortega has enemies. His demeanor has been described as stubborn, irascible, and difficult to work with by his detractors. But the opinion that matters the most, that of the voters, is that Ortega is the right person to lead Scottsdale, at least as it stands today.