First District campaigns in full swing
Money is serious, but not as heavy as 2012
Keith Rhinehart, Gina Cuclis and Susan Gorin have been contending for the hearts and support of First District voters since last summer, in what seems like an endless election cycle that has seen dozens of candidates vie for attention at the national and state levels. Here in Sonoma Valley, the races have been a little more low key, with all three candidates seeking out voters at public and private meetings and candidate forums, along with hitting the pavement and knocking on doors, both in the valley and in the Santa Rosa half of the district.
Supervisor elections in California are non-partisan, so party politics play a relatively minor role in most district elections.
“I believe in good old-fashioned retail politics, so I do a lot of that direct voter contact,” Cuclis said. “Voters appreciate that. They like to see the candidate at their door.”
While incumbent supervisor Gorin has done some walking door-to-door, she cites the heavy workload of the job as her primary avenue to the district’s voters.
“Even during my campaign for re-election, I continue to work on constituent issues, holding office hours each day, and attend public meetings and community events during the evenings and weekends,” she said. “That leaves very little time for traditional face-to-face campaigning.”
Rhinehart has a different take on meeting voters, preferring to reach out on his website and through media.
“I’m not big on fundraising, per se,” he said. “I do not knock and talk, nor do I use robocalls. I only distribute my campaign pieces, and talk to folks who happen to be outside.”
All three have been punctual showing up at community meetings, specific candidate forums, and working hard at staking out their political stances.
Inasmuch as money makes for a political race, 2016 is proving to be expensive, but not quite as much as 2012’s record-breaking contest between Gorin and challenger John Sawyer, now a Santa Rosa City councilman.
Rhinehart eschews any contribution over $24 dollars, although people can contribute up to $99 without having to reveal their names and addresses. So far he has raised $108 through cash and crowdfunding on the web.
Cuclis and Gorin, on the other hand, have been more traditional in reaching out for financial support to fund the signs, mailings, websites, telephone calls, fundraising events, polls and political advice deemed necessary to conduct a successful modern election.
They have considerable campaign funds. Gorin has raised nearly $150,000 for this campaign, compared to Cuclis’ $75,000. Both Gorin and Cuclis have spent nearly $70,000 so far, although Gorin still has over $60,000 in the bank, compared to just under $20,000 for Cuclis. A lot of money tends to be poured into campaigns in the final weeks, however, so these numbers could change significantly by election day on June 7.
Both have paid staff and varying numbers of volunteers who do everything from walk neighborhoods talking up their candidate, to phoning potential voters and contributors, as well as help staff events.
Note that the figures used in this article come from required campaign finance statements filed by the candidates at the county Registrar of Voters, all of which can be read online. The most recent of these were filed for 2016 from January through April. Subsequent filings and amendments have not been included, since they are added almost daily until even beyond the election. Campaign finance aficionados can keep up at the site vote.sonoma-county.org.
Cuclis’ campaign manager Deborah Rogers has earned $10,700 in this election cycle. Marc O’Hara is her main consultant, through his company Hired Gun, based in Los Angeles, and has been paid $23,000 so far. A veteran California political consultant, O’Hara urges his candidates to divide their time half to direct voter contact (including walking, mailers, TV, radio, meetings, etc.), about a third to human resources (the people who are necessary to getting all the work done) and the remaining 17 percent to administrative overhead, including fundraising.
Of human resources, he notes, “This is probably the least valued resource by candidates in general, but one of the most important things is to have people capable of creative and hard work.”
As of the end of April, Cuclis had spent about $8,500 on polling.
Gorin runs her own campaign, but has made extensive use of political consultants and polling. Gorin has spent nearly $20,000 on polls taken by Maguire Research Services and Delphi. She paid consultants Indie Politics $25,500, and Alex Anderson another $20,000.
It’s hard to breakdown exactly what the consulting money goes for: some of it is for printed material, design of flyers, content and voter registration analysis and information, and other forms of marketing, both advice and action.
A look at who is contributing to the candidates does not reveal a lot of differences. Both receive most of their funds from smaller contributions – $500 and under – from people and small businesses in a variety of fields, with many vintners and farmers contributing to both. Cuclis accuses Gorin of being union friendly and Gorin is proud of the support she receives from unions, both at the county and regional level.
While both candidates have backing from some business interests, Cuclis has conscientiously sought backing from people and businesses located in the Sonoma Valley, though she has addressed voters in Rincon Valley, Oakmont and other parts of Santa Rosa that comprise half of the district’s voters.
Gorin has extensive support from most of the Bay Area lawmakers, which she says demonstrates her ability to work with regional, state and federal lawmakers to the county’s benefit.
Rhinehart pretty much hates endorsements, feeling that they are bad influences on decision making for office holders.
You will see more and more signs and indicia of the June 7 election every day until then. If no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote, the top two will continue the process until November.
If you haven’t registered to vote or have not received your mail-in vote (as most people in Kenwood and Glen Ellen do), please contact the Sonoma County Registrar of voters at 565-6800. All three candidates have websites that are easy to find if you want to learn more, and their finance statements are online at the Registrar’s website, vote.sonoma-county.org.