Expert Analysis of District Two Supervisor Race – Handicapping the race and why
Final Analysis and findings:
A campaign thrives on voter support. Donations are expressed two ways, in Cash donations and In-Kind. In-Kind tells you what kinds of Businesses are supporting a candidate. But the Holy Grail of any campaign is Donor Cash Donations. It is common for a candidate to ‘Self Finance” as two have done in this campaign. This equals the “PAID” part of a campaign and paid advertising has great reach, but limited impact.
The second half of the campaign equation is the “UNPAID” part of the campaign. People tend to express their level of support in $$$ donations. Those that give money to a campaign are often the very best advocates for the candidate. Although each donor has limited reach, their endorsement, or criticism, of a candidate has tremendous impact on their friends, family, and associates. The qualitative level of support can be determined by the relative amount of the donation. More important than the power of personal advocacy of one donor, is how it is multiplied by each donor, or the quantitative element.To determine the potential of a campaign we take the donated “CASH” and then multiply it by the number of donors that gave at least $100.
Using this standard approach yields good results on “Typical” campaigns.
Under that standard, Candidate Dave Pratt is the uncontested front runner in this race with Frentzen a distant second with the rest of the pack far behind her. But things are seldom that simple in El Dorado County politics.
This is a Special Election and it carries with it, “Special” circumstances that cloud the above metric and cause this to be an unpredictable race between four of the six candidates.
Condition 1, Abbreviated time frame.
Due to the shortened period of this election much of the campaign that has great impact has been minimized. Most campaigns spend the majority of the time convincing the voters why one candidate is better than the other. This type of process effectiveness is time and frequency dependent. Most successful campaigns start at least a year before the Election Day. This special election was not even known about until just a few months before the election. This will gravely impact the ability of candidates to build the long-retained positive impression of a candidate to the voters. Without first building this positive image, a candidate is very susceptible to late onset criticisms.
So we can expect less “nice” campaign mailings and more negativity in this special election. Candidates will not be able to “BUY” or “EARN” the support of voters with campaign ad buys and appearances at many events that the public attends. This means that paid promotions will have less impact, and candidates will be forced to defend their past records more than normal.
If it is not about persuading the voters to a candidate’s suitability for the office, what is it about? It now becomes a race of getting each candidate’s current supporters to vote, or a GOTV (Get Out The Vote) campaign as it is called in politics.
Under these circumstances, name recognition and an energized large volunteer base (as indicated by the number of $100+ donors). Name recognition is easy to gauge with standard polling. In an off-cycle race like this, Voter turnout will be very low, so pollsters must select not just name recognition, but likelihood the person will actually get out and vote. In many ways, only the most dedicated voters will matter in the contest. What motivates people? Emotions.
In this campaign, the candidates will have less time to make their cases, and even less time to make compelling arguments countering any criticism of them. But for those that have good name recognition, these are ideal circumstances as new comers have no time to engage the voters effectively.
For Candidates like Jennifer Nutting, wife of former Supervisor Ray Nutting, this is a powerful advantage.
The only candidates that come close are Winery Owner and Planning Commissioner Dave Pratt, Cameron Park CSD member Shiva Frentzen, and Business owner George Turnboo. But for those candidates the problem is that they are only well-known in their respective areas of the Vineyard Agriculture areas, Cameron Park, and the rural areas of the district. Mrs. Nutting advantage is that her husband invested heavily in the last election in getting name recognition in Cameron Park giving the Nutting name the only name with District-wide recognition.
Condition 2, Grassroots Verses Astroturf campaigns
In El Dorado County, many well-funded campaigns have fallen to grassroots campaigns. Although 25,000 people sounds like a lot, in political advertising, it is a small number. Covering all those people with paid ads is not hard, but paid ads suffer greatly when compared to person pitches (providing the candidate is compelling – a basic requirement for succession American politics). In our county, the population numbers are relatively small so making personal contact with a high percentage of the voters is possible. Perhaps more important, is that a grassroots campaign with many active supporters can reach a very significant number of voter with a personal pitch, even if by proxy. Our county is noted for many things including our cynicism of paid advertising and our respect for a person’s word when you are looking them in the eye. The last Sheriff’s race was a classic example of how a grassroots campaign completely overwhelmed a well-funded, but top-down, campaign. For candidates like McNeil and Amaral, not having an active grass-roots element to the campaign is a serious handicap.
It cannot be ignored that Mrs. Nutting’s campaign manager, Dan Dellinger, was also the campaign manager of the successful Sheriff D’Agostini campaign, Ray Nutting’s campaigns, Pioneer Fire Protection District, and many other local campaigns. He is the undisputed expert in winning campaigns in the heart of El Dorado County. This should be a great advantage to Jennifer Nutting’s campaign.
For McNeil, this is especially problematic. Although it is known that she can, and does, throw money around, it has been shown time and again, that a PAID campaign cannot beat a grassroots campaign in our county. In other words, faced with a good grassroots campaign, you cannot BUY an election here.
Condition 3, highly charged emotional issues.
The emotional element of this campaign cannot be under-estimated considering that this race is only in existence because of the unexpected removal of office of the popular Supervisor Ray Nutting by what many are calling political chicanery to rob the people of their advocate because he did not tow the establishment’s line. It does not matter if this is a valid argument. Not only is he the most known candidate in the District, but the circumstance of his loss of office make for a compelling emotional story that may drive many voters to the polls in protest of the treatment of Mr. Nutting. Because of his notoriety, and the emotionally motivating circumstances, his wife may get a significant boost in turnout. This race is ALL ABOUT TURNOUT. The question is how well the campaign will get that message out to the voters.
Condition 4, The “Developer” boogieman and the Farm Water Wars.
After a long and high profile grassroots campaign about limiting big developments in the county Development is front of mind. This pits pro-growth against no-growth elements within the county. The blanket target of leading environmentalist like Bill Center and Jim Moore, has been created as class-divisive public enemy, the “Developer” and anyone that supports any development beyond single family homes on large lots. The sophisticated analyst can see the hypocrisy of rich environmentalist controlling the land so only other rich people can live here. It cannot be ignored that the Center/Moore team have been very effective and controlling the “message” in our county. In this race, they have lined up behind Shiva Frentzen giving her free advice. This will give her a great advantage with those that see themselves as greens, or environmentalist. But it is a double edged sword cutting both ways. About half of the voters resent outside agencies and environmentalist like Center/Moore telling them what they can do, or cannot do, on their own private property. Will the emotional issues of environmentalist drive more turnout that the backlash driving people to the polls to voter for ANYONE BUT the environmentalist candidate. Jim Moore of Moore Methods thinks so. This might be why. If the support of Center/Moore adds 10% to her vote total, and also 10% more people vote for someone else it is OK because the 10% will all go to her whereas the 10% protest vote will be spread amongst all the other candidates giving her a net gain. What we do know is that the Center/Moore political machine is powerful and they have selected Shiva as their candidate.
Sometimes people can be TOO clever. Center/Moore may have stepped in it this time, but the limited campaign window may save them. The drive to get a number of land-use limiting initiatives on the ballot is known to just about everyone in the county. Many have signed or asked other to sign the petitions. One is backed by the political veterans of many campaigns and the Measure Y that already limits growth in the county. It is also well known that Center/Moore were displeased with this grassroots campaign that was challenging their own initiative. They are cagy vets at the political game and were looking to put those usurpers in their place. They noticed what was a flaw in the competing initiatives but stayed quite. By timing their disclosure they were able to get the Initiatives sent back for analysis understanding that the delayed disclosure made it too late to do the analysis AND get them on the ballot. This has effectively killed the competing initiatives. Without any doubt, the supporters of those initiatives think this was grossly unfair. The question is if the voters will learn of this manipulative move and will they hold it against Center/Moore’s selected candidate, Shiva Frentzen.
On the other side is the candidate being tagged as the “Developers” candidate, Dave Pratt. There is little more than the fact that his is a county Planning Commissioner that controls land development issues in the county. When analyzing his donors, only one developer is seen to be supporting him and that was just for a single $100 donation. Where his support is coming from is the local agriculture community. It is known that agriculture has issues that make it “unfriendly” to large housing developments. Regardless of the facts, the Pratt campaign is already being attacked as the “Developer” candidate.
As a side note, the yearlong attack of El Dorado Hills EID Director Greg Prada, may help Dave Pratt’s campaign. Prada has made the news repeatedly attacking the “Farm” rates of EID and he claims that the non-ag people of his district are subsidizing Ag’s water rates. Regardless of the validity of the claim, it has been a polarizing year with farmers being the target of non-ag water users. As the Ag community now feels targeted by a growing segment of the county, they are looking to defend what they term as the “Rural” nature of our county. This will greatly benefit the Pratt campaign in the rural areas without much loss in the communities of Cameron Park, El Dorado, and Diamond Springs as they do not self-identify themselves as Urbanites. The reason it matter is because the forces are at work here when it comes to water, EID the water utility, LAFCO the regulating agency, and the BOS which is the Land Use authority in the county. The BOS makes land use policy, while LAFCO determine the best way to achieve that policy, and then EID gets the job of actually delivering the water. The BOS cannot change the rate structure of Ag rates at EID, but they can eliminate every Agricultural District in the County and approve large residential communities adjacent to farm lands and can even change regulations about weekend traffic flows near Highway 50 around Camino. In other words, Supervisors have a lot to do with retaining the rural nature of the county. As such, it is clear that the Ag community in lining up behind the Pratt campaign.
Condition 5, Non-disclosure of Turnboo campaign.
Without any disclosure of the Turnboo campaign we can only look at the past performances of his campaigns. He has never been competitive against a Nutting in the past but he has always drawn a dedicated following. In a run-off election it was never enough to serious challenge Nutting (Ray), but this is a winner-take-all with six diverse candidates in a diverse district. He has signs from past campaigns, but no money for this campaign.