By PAUL PAYNE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Just because North Coast Democrats are heavily favored to win next month’s state legislative races doesn’t mean they’ve stopped spending heaps of campaign cash.
On the contrary, Democrats outspent Republicans in local Assembly and Senate races by a nearly 4-to-1 margin since July 1, shelling out a combined $303,340 compared to just $86,306 by their GOP counterparts.
The most recent spending expands an already wide gap. Since the beginning of the year, the four North Coast Democrats running for the Legislature have spent more than $1 million compared to $141,658 by their GOP rivals.
While some might call it overkill in a region where there are five Democratic voters for every two Republicans, others see it as a form of job security.
The money buys an onslaught of mailers and broadcast spots that keep politicians’ names before voters. Some of the remaining cash is handed off to other Democrats statewide, who will return the favor when they reach office.
“Some might say it’s over the top but you can never have your name in front of people too often,” said Brian Sobel, a Republican political consultant and former Petaluma city councilman. “It’s an investment in the future.”
The spending is likely to rise even higher before the Nov. 2 election, where North Coast voters will fill three Assembly seats and one state Senate spot.
Democrat Jared Huffman, who is seeking re-election to the 6th Assembly District which covers Marin County and southern Sonoma County, spent the most, laying out $99,808 from July 1 to Sept. 30. His opponent, Republican Bob Stephens, spent $16,826.
Next was Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata, who is seeking a return to the 1st Assembly District stretching from Santa Rosa to Del Norte County. He spent $94,894 during the period compared to challenger Karen Brooks with $43,835.
Third was Assemblywoman Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, who is running for the 2nd Senate District seat being vacated by Pat Wiggins. Evans, who is termed out in the Assembly, spent $69,801 during the most recent period. Her challenger, Republican Lawrence Weisner, reported no spending.
And Michael Allen, also of Santa Rosa, who is running for the 7th Assembly District, spent $38,837 compared to $25,645 by his GOP opponent, Doris Gentry.
One reason the Democrats spend more is because they have more. In the four races, Democrats raised more than $971,000 since Jan. 1 compared to about $148,000 by Republicans.
On the North Coast, both labor unions and big business donate to Democratic candidates while Republicans are limited to business alone, said Andy Merrifield, a political science professor at Sonoma State University.
“Contrary to popular belief, business doesn’t just support Republicans,” Merrifield said. “Business supports winners. There’s a sense of pragmatism. They don’t want to be shut out.”
With a substantial war chest, Democratic candidates in safe districts will spend the money to intimidate Republican foes and ward off credible challenges in the future, said David McCuan, another Sonoma State University political science professor.
They will also transfer the money to Democrats in other districts who might be running a close race, he said. It allows them to gain influence with their peers and demonstrate they are ready for leadership roles, he said.
Being an expert on policy issues like finance or the environment isn’t enough in Sacramento. Elected officials must prove they can raise money and spread it around, McCuan said.
“They have to show they are rainmakers,” McCuan said. “It’s the dividing line between serious politicos and those who are just biding their time.”
In fact, the three incumbents — Chesbro, Evans and Huffman — have donated tens of thousands of dollars to Democrats all over the state. Among the recipients of Huffman’s largesse are gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown and Assembly hopeful Linda Jones, who is challenging a Republican incumbent in the Palmdale area.
Chesbro has also given money to Democrats around the state including Dave Jones, who is running for insurance commissioner. Evans’ contributions to other candidates include $5,000 in June to Sonoma County supervisorial candidate Pam Torliatt.
Michael Allen has given money to Santa Rosa Mayor Susan Gorin, Councilwoman Veronica Jacobi and hopeful Larry Haenel.
And all have contributed directly to the Democratic Party.
Evans’ campaign manager, Terry Price, said there’s an expectation from the party’s leaders that incumbents will help others in tough races.
He said Evans’ spending peaked during the primary, when she fought off challenges from county planning commissioner Tom Lynch, Sonoma City Councilwoman Joanne Sanders and Roseland school board member David Rosas.
Since then, Evans has limited her expenses to covering campaign staff payroll and taking trips across the expansive 2nd Senate District, where she has been meeting with interest groups from foresters to Indian tribes.
“She’s on the road all the time and it’s a lot of territory to cover,” Price said. “All of that takes dough.”