By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Longtime Windsor Councilwoman Deb Fudge took the lead Tuesday night in a tight race for 4th District Sonoma County Supervisor, advancing in her quest to win the seat that has eluded her twice in the past eight years.
Fudge, who had nearly 37 percent of the vote, is set to face off in November with former Obama administration official James Gore, who garnered about 35 percent in early returns.
“I’m very happy with this,” Fudge said, adding that knocking on doors during the campaign gave her a sense that she would do well in the five-person race. “It looked like I was in the lead walking door-to-door.”
“It’s a great start,” Gore said of the close ranking. He was buoyed by his own ground campaign, walking precincts and getting volunteers out for a last-minute push.
“It gets me fired up for what’s next,” he said of the results.
The two will go one-on-one in the November general election to determine who will replace Supervisor Mike McGuire, who is running for a state Senate seat.
Ken Churchill, the owner of small Santa Rosa winery who has been active as a pension reform advocate, took third place in the primary, claiming almost 13 percent of the vote Tuesday.
Former Healdsburg Mayor Pete Foppiano was in fourth place with slightly more than 11 percent of the vote.
Keith Rhinehart, a part-time teacher and former UPS manager, had 4 percent. The results included mail-in ballots and 74 of 74 precincts reporting.
The 4th District represents a sprawling area that extends from north Santa Rosa to the Mendocino County line, including all of Larkfield-Wikiup, Windsor, Healdsburg, Geyserville and Cloverdale.
The anticipated one-two finish of Fudge and Gore in the primary was seen by political analysts as a prelude to a contest where the swing vote between liberal and centrist blocs on the Board of Supervisors is hanging in the balance.
Fudge has the backing of environmental organizations and public employee unions. Gore is supported by the Sonoma County Farm Bureau and business groups.
Fudge, 58, a five-time mayor of Windsor who has twice run for county supervisor, touted her role in redeveloping the downtown and helping create the mixed-use Town Green area. She is also a champion of the SMART train, which is expected to begin passenger service from San Rafael to north of Santa Rosa in late 2016.
Gore, 36, a former assistant chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resources Conservation Service, has a father and brother who are in the wine grape business in Sonoma County. He has endorsements from agricultural and business groups.
Earlier in the evening, voters emerging from polling places in the Larkfield and the Mark West area north of Santa Rosa reflected the predominate split for Fudge and Gore.
Susanne Spencer, a resident of Mark West Estates, said she voted for Fudge because “she has many years experience as a council member in Windsor. She’s done a good job with Windsor.”
“She sounds like she has a long history in Windsor and has done a really good job there,” Jen Tantarelli of Larkfield said of her reasons for voting for Fudge.
Jeff Berger also voted for Fudge. He said he was turned off by the plethora of Gore campaign signs.
Larkfield resident Matt Adams voted for Gore.
“He had some experience with the current Obama administration. I thought if he was good enough to work with the president, he could handle the 4th District,” he said.
Adams, an adviser for a local independent wealth management firm, said he got his opinion of Gore from “people I trust.”
Curtis Dupuis, a Larkfield electrical contractor who voted for Gore, said “I like the fact he was younger and has a fresh perspective. And he’s a family man; down to earth.”
Henry Bisordi, a longtime grapegrower, said he voted for Gore because “I like everything about him. I’m in agriculture. He’s strong for agriculture. He seems like a very serious young man.”
“I got to meet him when I first started out. I was impressed with him,” Bisordi said.
Cathy Campbell-Foster, a Larkfield artist who voted for Fudge said “I figured she was up to speed with what’s going on.”
“I liked the fact she was a small-business owner,” said her husband, Gary Foster, a musician who voted for Fudge.
Peter Heredia, a solar salesman who lives in the Mark West area, also liked that Fudge listed her occupation as small-business owner.“That really appealed to me. It was all I needed to hear,” he said.
Fudge is a retired PG&E senior program manager. She now makes and sells jams and jellies out of her house.
Ross McClure, a Larkfield school bus driver, voted for Gore, whom he met at a Chamber of Commerce gathering early on.
“I’m hoping he’s the real deal,” he said, adding that he’d like him to be as responsive as McGuire, who he said made sure damage on his street from garbage trucks got patched up when he called him about it.
“I’m hoping he will be proactive on the funding for roads,” McClure said of Gore.
Karen Street, a self-employed bookkeeper who lives in the Saddlebrook subdivision, said she voted for Churchill because The Press Democrat’s editorial board endorsed him.
“I was up in the air about everybody else,” she said. “My only concern is he didn’t have any previous public service, or a political background. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.”