By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Having already spent nearly a quarter million dollars between them, the candidates for the 1st District county supervisorial seat headed into the fall election with diminished bank accounts.
Predictions — and election history — suggest a long, costly contest encompassing east Santa Rosa and the Sonoma Valley. And indications are that what has so far been a hard-fought race will again veer into hostile tactics.
“I think it’s going to heat up considerably,” said Brian Sobel, a Petaluma-based political consultant.
Santa Rosa City Councilwoman Susan Gorin had the most cash on hand at the start of the July, with $12,724. Between May 20 and June 30, a period that included the June 5 primary, she spent more than twice what she raised, $29,498 versus $12,540, the latest campaign finance statements show.
“We satisfied our fundraising goals and we raised some extra on top of that,” Gorin said, “so we have some cash going into the general election.”
Her rival, Santa Rosa Councilman John Sawyer, reported just $683 left on July 1, despite loaning his campaign $16,300. The loan, he said, went to combat a late surge of negative mailers from an independent expenditure committee aligned with Gorin.
“That was a direct response … and not one I planned for,” Sawyer said.
Not including the personal loan, Sawyer raised $17,249 over the 42-day period. He spent $42,704.
In the June primary to replace outgoing Supervisor Valerie Brown of Sonoma, Gorin and Sawyer finished in a virtual dead heat as they took the top two spots out of six contenders to qualify for the runoff. Gorin was ahead by 186 votes out of 27,811 cast.
In Gorin’s fundraising report, most of her contributors were individuals, including Sonoma resident Theodore Eliot, an advisor to the county Open Space District and a former ambassador to Afghanistan, and Kumari Sivada, an activist with the Sonoma County Alliance for Medical Marijuana.
But just over half of what Gorin brought in, $6,465, came from independent expenditure committees.
They included the progressive Concerned Citizens for Santa Rosa, which gave her $2,625; Noreen Evan’s state Senate campaign committee, $1,000; the sheet metal workers union local, $1,000, and the county Democratic Central Committee, $1,000.
Sawyer’s campaign raised $14,250 of the $17,239 it brought in from eight independent committees. He had 18 donors, including Deputy District Attorney Jill Ravitch, who gave $100, and fellow Councilman Scott Bartley, $250.
Independent committees backing his campaign included the Sonoma Law Enforcement Association, Sonoma County Alliance, a group of business, agriculture and labor interests, and California Real Estate, each contributing $2,625. The North Bay Leadership Council and the Building Industry Association of the Bay Area each gave $1,000.
“Susan has rainmakers on her side, labor, some environmental groups,” said Sonoma State University political scientist David McCuan. “But Sawyer has those on his side as well, the public safety groups, those folks in Santa Rosa’s business community.”
The most expensive supervisorial campaign yet was the 2010 2nd District contest between Petaluma councilmembers Pam Torliatt and David Rabbitt, the eventual winner.
Rabbitt and Torliatt spent a combined $706,000. That amount does not include what independent committees put into the election.
Neither Gorin nor Sawyer said how much they have raised since — but both “should be loading up at this point,” said McCuan. “It’s going to be fought early, it’s not going to wait until the typical Labor Day kickoff.”
Together, the two campaigns went through $238,867 from Jan. 1 to June 30. Gorin, who earlier loaned herself $10,000, had spent $107,863 and Sawyer $130,998.
McCuan suggested the winning candidate will have to spend in the neighborhood of $100,000 more.
But Gorin’s campaign consultant Terry Price said that was far too low.
“I would anticipate that Sawyer would probably spend closer to $200,000,” Price said.
For her part, Gorin said, “It’s not my big goal to match John Sawyer dollar for dollar.”
She said she is relying on a “field campaign” and that many of her small donors — 27 of her 41 contributors in the latest report gave her $200 or less — volunteer to make campaign telephone calls, canvas precincts or send emails.
“My goal is not to raise big contributions and throw money at the election, but to use our resources very carefully,” she said.
Sawyer said that Price, in forecasting a steep campaign price tag, was, perhaps, tipping his hand.
“Maybe it’s a suggestion that I’m going to need to spend a large amount of money defending myself,” he said.
As for his own fundraising, he said, “Are we on track in our current expenses? Yes. Do I have enough money in the bank to finish the campaign? No. That’s what we’re working on now.”
A dearth of other close, local races, and the distance between the two candidates’ platforms, will benefit both candidates’ fundraising efforts, McCuan and Sobel said.
“The 1st District is going to become a magnet for all kinds of money that’s out there, so the heat in that race should get pretty negative,” McCuan said.
“It’s the marquee race in the county,” said Sobel. “Anybody with an interest in either the platform of Gorin or Sawyer will be compelled to give money to those campaigns.”
Sawyer’s campaign consultant Rob Muelrath indicated that his candidate, stung by the primary attacks he blames for his second place finish, will play hard offense.
“The public doesn’t know anything negative about Susan yet,” Muelrath said. “Will they? Probably. Will it hurt her? Probably. But then again, there’s going to be things coming out against John. It’s going to be a fight to the finish.”