Saldaña and Peters both received local party endorsements and are facing off in the June primary with the hope of unseating Rep. Brian Bilbray in the newly formed 52nd Congressional District, which includes the city of Poway.
Though each thinks they have a better chance of beating the longtime incumbent—the differences seem to be clear.
Saldaña has been described as the liberal, grassroots Democrat while Peters has been described as a middle-of-the-road-type.
And while Saldaña has the endorsement of the Poway Democratic Club, Peters gained the endorsement of Poway Deputy Mayor Jim Cunningham.
“It would make sense that Lori, who has a history of going to these clubs and being involved in that grassroots level, would get the endorsements of the clubs,” said Democratic political consultant Chris Crotty.
“Scott, [on the] other hand, being a moderate Democrat, differs on a number of issues with the liberal activists. He interacts with the folks in the Party Central Committee, but he doesn’t have a concerted effort to reach out to them because he’s busy raising money from the people he knows.”
But the differences are how voters can decide who to support.
Peters said it’s his moderate stance that will give the Democrats the best chance to unseat Bilbray.
“Politically, this district is a third Republican, third Democrat, third Independent. It’s going be decided in the middle and I have the endorsement from a lot of leaders who know me,” he said.
“They think I’ll do a better job and I’m more likely to win. I got some business leaders who are moderates who are supporting me. That’s the kind of support you’re going to need to win because it’s going to be decided from the middle.”
But Saldaña said her left-approach to issues is why she’s the better choice.
“I think I’m a progressive who advances Democratic values and goals. I’m for the things that the Democratic activists want to work hard to achieve and that’s why I’m working so hard,” she said, adding that her gender also may play a role.
“If you look at the last 20 years, the candidates Chris Kehoe, Susan Davis and Francine Busby did stronger against [Bilbray] than any of the men who ran against him. Women make a very clear contrast to voters.”
Saldaña’s liberal views are what earned her the Poway Democratic Club’s endorsement, said club President Mickey Foster.
“They both presented well, but I really do believe the reason why Lori was endorsed [was] because she is considered a grassroots candidate,” said Foster who noted Saldaña earned the support by a 19-5 vote.
“I know that Scott has experience on the [San Diego] City Council and he’s no stranger to San Diego politics but I think Lori will really fight for the basic needs of everyday people. Scott comes off as a little, being too typical with his approach to politics.”
But Peters isn’t deterred by not gaining the endorsement of the Poway Democratic Club and six other local clubs.
“She’s been working for clubs her whole career—some of the clubs, I didn’t get to speak to,” Peters said. “But that’s not the way the race is going to be decided. I think it’s a combination of effectiveness and electability.”
He gained an endorsement from Cunningham, other elected officials and has reached across the aisle to garner support from well-known Republicans such as developer and philanthropist Malin Burnham.
Cunningham did not respond to requests for comment on why he endorsed Peters over Saldaña.
Crotty agreed with Peters.
“I think the candidate that has the best opportunity to beat Bilbray is the candidate that’s a moderate candidate who can raise literally millions of dollars. Looking at both Lori and Scott, Scott has been a moderate his entire career,” Crotty said.
“That’s why he has $300,000 in the bank and Lori only has $80,000.”
Though Peters may be the best candidate against Bilbray in some eyes, Foster said it’s important to know where lawmakers stand.
“Moderate is good I suppose but you’d want to know that the things that are the most important to the people are not being discarded,” he said. “I would be concerned that he [Peters] would only be interested in the position and not the issues.”
Despite the vast differences among the two Democrats, Crotty said votes will be split, forcing a runoff in November. That will likely happen, he said, even though a candidate could be elected after receiving 50 percent and one vote under California's new open primary law.
“I think that as a person who works to get Democrats elected, it’s unfortunate in the primary, we have two people running who will split the vote and basically ensure that Brian will get more votes,” he said. “Hopefully, the Democrats will realize it’s better to have the moderate Democrat than the right-wing wackos in Congress.”