Port of San Diego Chairman Scott Peters on Monday announced his candidacy for the 52nd Congressional District that takes in northern and coastal San Diego — casting himself as the centrist in a primary race against Republican Rep. Brian Bilbray and former Democratic Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña.
Republican John Stahl and Democrat Bob Nascenzi also are set to challenge in June 2012.
Peters, a Democrat and former president of the San Diego City Council, said among his priorities were creating jobs in the region, developing an energy policy that reduces the dependence on foreign oil, maintaining commitments to veterans and their families and ending spending patterns that contributed to the compounding national debt.
He pledged to bring an independent, problem-solving approach to Washington to help end the gridlock that has hamstrung the current Congress.
“The only way we are going to be able to make that change is one congressional district at a time,” Peters said. “I think in my experience at the city and at the port I’ve shown the ability to bring people together and get things done. And I think we can set the same tone in Washington as we did in San Diego for getting our problems solved.”
The redrawn 52nd District, which sweeps south from Poway through Clairemont, La Jolla, downtown San Diego and Coronado, has been identified as a key battleground seat because of its near-even split between registered Democrats and Republicans.
Bilbray will have just a 3-point advantage in Republican registration, down from a nine-point edge in his current 50th District. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has been targeting the 11-year incumbent for what it considered to be choosing “millionaires over Medicare.”
Bilbray, who welcomed the entry of another challenger, has said repeatedly that his No. 1 priority was to get Americans working again. At the same time, he said he would continue fighting to stop wasteful federal spending.
Political analysts maintain a key factor in the race will be the candidates’ abilities to attract the nearly one-third of registered voters who have declined to affiliate with a political party. Under the state’s new primary system, the top two vote-getters advance to November, regardless of their party affiliation.
Saldaña, who served six years in the Assembly before stepping down because of term limits in 2010, said she was running to restore education funding, expand access to affordable health care and protect Medicare for seniors.
In a prepared statement, Saldaña sought to differentiate herself from Peters.
“The choices in this election are now clear: a millionaire who is out of touch with the reality of most people’s lives, or a teacher from Clairemont who grew up in a military family and sees people struggling with economic challenges every day,” said Saldaña, who teaches at San Diego State University. “I trust the voters to see the differences between us.”
Peters said it was unfortunate that Saldaña “wants to take that kind of tone.”
“And at the end of the day, the people who are worried about their jobs, about their children’s education and about their retirement, want someone who could go to Washington and work across party lines to get things done,” he said. “And that’s what I offer.”
He touted his record of supporting small businesses and redevelopment projects such as the construction of PETCO Park. He also led the effort to fix the city’s ailing sewer system and helped to complete state Route 56, following decades of stops and starts.
However, as was the case when he unsuccessfully ran for city attorney in 2008, Peters will be forced to answer questions about past votes, including a 2002 decision to underfund the city’s pension plan.
Peters acknowledged that the council was mistaken in deferring pension costs, but pointed out that the practice began in the 1990s. As a councilman, Peters said he helped bring that practice to an end.
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