By SEAN SCULLY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The opening skirmish of the five-way battle to replace 4th District Supervisor Mike McGuire was fought not over issues, but over money.
The first campaign finance reports of the year, filed Friday, show two candidates with strong early fundraising totals: Windsor Town Council member Deb Fudge raised $36,855 in the second half of 2013 and had $32,681 in the bank at the start of the year; and former Healdsburg City Council member Pete Foppiano with $37,200 raised in the second half of 2013 and $26,833 in the bank on Jan. 1.
With these early reports “candidates are trying to send a signal to elite donors” that they are serious contenders for the June primary that will decide the two candidates for the office in November, said Sonoma State political science professor David McCuan, an avid watcher of local races.
These reports should set the stage for serious fundraising over the next few months, with the next reports due March 24 and May 22. Candidates who perform well in the January reports often can build on their success in the early months of the new election year, McCuan said, attracting new donors and endorsements.
But the picture remains somewhat muddy. Healdsburg City Council member Tom Chambers, for example, reported just $2,850 in the bank as of Jan. 1, which would seem to be a disappointing result compared with Fudge and Foppiano.
Chambers said Friday, however, that he had only begun fundraising in earnest Jan. 1 and that he had about $32,000 in the bank by the end of January. If that is the case, it vaults him into the same solid position as the other two candidates.
One unknown so far is the status of former Obama administration official James Gore, a Sonoma County native who left his position in Washington, D.C., and declared his candidacy for McGuire’s position in December. Gore’s financial report was not on file with the county registrar by the deadline Friday, but campaign finance documents can be sent by mail and sometimes arrive at the office for public inspection several days after the formal deadline, according to the office.
McCuan said Gore’s report will provide an interesting look at the state of the political newcomer’s campaign and fundraising effort.
Likewise, the report for Keith Rhinehart, a former UPS supervisor and part-time teacher, was not available Friday.
Neither Gore nor Rhinehart returned calls for comment.
The five candidates are vying to replace McGuire, who instead of seeking a second term on the board is running for a state senate seat being vacated by Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, who decided not to run for re-election. The 4th District covers the northern end of the county, including Healdsburg and Cloverdale.
The top two vote-getters on the June primary ballot will go on to compete on the November election.
Perhaps the most interesting campaign finance report filed Friday was in another district altogether, one where there is so far no competition.
Supervisor David Rabbitt filed a report saying he had raised $60,932 in the second half of 2013 and had $104,394 in the bank on Jan. 1, a mountainous obstacle to any candidate who might step up to oppose him in the 2nd District, which covers the southwestern corner of the county.
That huge bank account will likely mean little or no opposition in the fall for Rabbitt, who is entering his second term as chairman of the board, McCuan said.
“That gives him a great deal of freedom to run the board, look down the road at what he’d like to see,” he said. “And it also signals to his opponents that he doesn’t want to be messed with.”
Rabbitt did not disagree that his fundraising total was a strong signal to anyone who might step forward to challenge him by the March 7 deadline, though he said he hoped his performance on the board would speak more loudly than the money.
“I have worked pretty hard during some pretty hard times around here and I have persevered,” he said. “I would hope that people will take note of that.”
You can reach Staff Writer Sean Scully at 521-5313 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @BeerCountry.