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Stockton, Calif., Mayoral Race Is Tight Amid Social Media Campaign Against Incumbent

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The mayoral race in Stockton, Calif., has drawn national attention, and the outcome is still undecided. Incumbent Mayor Michael Tubbs was elected four years ago with support from former President Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey. He was 26 at the time - Stockton's youngest mayor ever - and considered a rising star in the Democratic Party. His supporters say if he loses this year, it's due to a social media smear campaign. Here's CapRadio's Rich Ibarra with the story.

RICH IBARRA, BYLINE: Michael Tubbs is the first African American mayor of Stockton. He made headlines for starting a guaranteed basic income project in Stockton, established a $20 million college scholarship fund for high school graduates and was the focus of a recent HBO documentary.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, “STOCKTON ON MY MIND”)

MICHAEL TUBBS: I remember being hungry. I'd have to hold my mom while she cried, hearing gunshots at night. I remember how hard it was to grow up. I think that quote, be the change that you wish to see in the world, is super-important because oftentimes people get scared to try and make change because it's like, well, what if it doesn't work?

IBARRA: His opponent, Kevin Lincoln, is in the lead with 54% of the vote. But 41,000 ballots have yet to be counted. Daniel Lopez, who is Tubbs' chief aide, says disinformation on social media has loomed large in this election.

DANIEL LOPEZ: You know, these Facebook pages have been popping up, and they're filling the gap. But no one really - they have no name on the articles. No one really understands that they have a political agenda. No one really knows who's behind it. And so they just make wild allegations.

IBARRA: There is also the 209 Times blog. It describes itself as a local grassroots news source.

LOPEZ: They claimed that he had a full-time job in New York City when he absolutely did not have a full-time job. The mayor started a scholarship fund, $20 million fund. They claimed that the money did not exist. They said that we had $60 million for homelessness when, in fact, we only had $6.5 million.

IBARRA: 209 Times is led by Motec Sanchez. He also ran in the March primary for mayor.

MOTEC SANCHEZ: We are 100% responsible for taking down Michael Tubbs as mayor and that Kevin Lincoln is the benefactor of that work - of four years of a sustained campaign exposing him with facts.

IBARRA: Sanchez says he learned before the election that the polls showed that Tubbs was already unpopular.

SANCHEZ: Michael Tubbs was the most recognized elected official in the county, and simultaneously, he was the least liked. His approval rating was less than 20%.

IBARRA: Kevin Lincoln, who is biracial and Mexican and African American, came in second in the primary but continues to pull ahead in this election.

KEVIN LINCOLN: It's time for Stockton to have a leader in their mayor that will bring people together and give everybody a seat at the table and really focus on identifying what our city needs.

IBARRA: Tubbs says, in spite of the results, that he opened the door for others to follow.

TUBBS: As the first African American mayor, it's not lost on me that without running and winning in 2016, there would be no Kevin Lincoln candidacy in 2020. But by breaking barriers and showing people that leadership can come from everywhere, we've even created opportunity for my opponent to run. So I'm incredibly proud of the city, and I'm incredibly proud of that work as well.

IBARRA: Stockton has been described as one of the most diverse cities in California, both in race and apparently opinions. For NPR News, I'm Rich Ibarra in Stockton.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEA GIRLS SONG, "DAISY DAISY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.