David Campos and David Chiu face off tonight in round one of a two-round election

By Tim Redmond

By Tim Redmond

JUNE 3, 2014 — The most important race on the local ballot – the David Campos v. David Chiu election – won’t be decided tonight. But the outcome will be significant: Not only will momentum and fundraising for the November final be affected by this primary; the results may indicate whether the young, comparatively wealthy tech workers who have been moving into the Mission, Noe Valley, and Soma have decided to register and vote.

The results of the Proposition B vote will be a sign of whether voters remain unhappy with Mayor Ed Lee’s push for more and more luxury housing – and whether a last-minute influx of campaign cash can bring down what were astronomical poll numbers in favor of voter control over waterfront construction.

Chiu and his supporters have spent more than $1 million on this primary, including more than $200,000 in independent attack pieces funded by two tech billionaires. Campos has spent about $400,000, some of it attacking Chiu.

Six months ago, Chiu had far greater name recognition, as a board president and former mayoral candidate. But at this point, it’s likely most of the voters who come to the polls (and that will be a small number) know who both the candidates are.

The attacks on Campos have been almost entirely focused on the vote to remove Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi from office. You can’t spend that much money on that nasty a campaign and not have some impact; there are people who know nothing about either candidate who will be influenced by the attacks.

But Campos doesn’t have to come in first tonight to be seen as the winner. He started out way behind, and the November electorate, with its higher (and thus more progressive) turnout will swing more in his direction.

So a tie for Campos is a clear victory, and even if he’s just a few points behind, his supporters (and, equally important, potential supporters) will see it as a sign of strength.

It will also be a sign that the Mirkarimi issue isn’t really resonating with the voters.

On the other hand, if Campos finishes a distant second, we’ll see more of these ugly mailers in the fall. (Although you have to wonder: How many times can you hit a candidate on one vote before the sting starts to fade and people just turn the whole thing off?)

Another way to analyze the impact of the attacks on Campos: Most of the mailers I got came well after the absentee ballots were sent out – and it’s likely that more than half the votes will be cast by mail. By the time the last barrage of fliers (from both sides) hit mailboxes, many, perhaps most of the voters had already filled out and sent in their ballots.

So if the Chiu vote is unexpectedly strong in the election-day tallies, it could be due to his negative campaigning at the very end.

Chiu has the support of much of the local tech industry, and while at this point we have no idea how the newly arrived tech workers vote – or if they vote – it’s a good bet that the techies will have more moderate politics than many longtime residents of the Mission and Soma. So it will be interesting to look at the results that come from precincts where there have been a lot of Ellis Act evictions – a sign that people with rent-controlled apartments have been displaced for higher-income residents buying tenancies in common.

No question the mayor took a political hit when Simon Snellgrove’s luxury condo project was vetoed last year. It’s no coincidence that Lee has stayed entirely out of the Prop. B battle; if he opposed it and it won, he would have lost another citywide referendum.

But the last Prop. B vote wasn’t just (or even largely) about waterfront condos; it was about angry San Franciscans feeling as if the city was being turned over to the rich. More people voted against that project because of the Ellis Act evictions than because of any studied sense of waterfront planning.

This time around, the housing situation in the city is even worse – and until a month ago, the opponents of Prop. B weren’t even bothering to run a campaign. Then they launched a phone-banking and mail operation, funded by developers and building-trade unions that has supporters of the measure worried that the vote could be a lot closer than anyone predicted.

And of course, last time around the vote to stop the project was No; this time around, waterfront preservationist need a Yes. It’s always harder to get the voters to say Yes than No.

But if, even with that last-minute money, Prop. B finishes strongly ahead, it should give Lee real grounds for concern about his political agenda and future.

If you haven’t voted yet, polls are open until 8. Preliminary results should be in an hour later, and I’ll have a full analysis tomorrow morning.