Blake Hooper touts early fundraising haul in race against Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt

Rabbitt still maintains a strong fundraising advantage.|

Blake Hooper’s insurgent campaign to unseat Sonoma County’s longest-serving current supervisor is touting its first fundraising haul after securing more than $70,000 to help finance Hooper’s challenge to three-term incumbent David Rabbitt.

The Tuesday announcement from Hooper’s campaign comes weeks before the first filing deadline, Jan. 31, and politicians and analysts have called a signal to would-be supporters that there’s a real challenge afoot.

“I think it makes him a serious contender,” said Petaluma Mayor Teresa Barrett, one of three Petaluma council members to endorse Hooper.

A Petaluma planning commissioner and former staffer for Rep. Jared Huffman, Hooper announced his campaign for the south county-based District 2 seat in August, and has spent months going door-to-door as part of a strategy to connect with voters ahead of the June 7 primary. If one candidate secures more than half the votes, they’ll win the seat without need for a November runoff.

“We knew that our opponent will likely well outraise us,” Hooper said in a phone interview Wednesday, adding that his team has knocked on more than 2,000 doors. “But we’re going to be running a very different campaign. This (funding) will give us what we need to run the campaign the way we want.”

But Rabbitt, who hasn’t faced a challenger since 2014 and has yet to begin actively campaigning, maintains a strong fundraising advantage, with more than $100,000 left from previous election cycles.

“I can’t speak for my opponent, but fundraising is always offset by expenses, and to date I have not spent anything extraordinary on the campaign,” Rabbitt said.

The race for the south county’s 2nd District, which comprises Petaluma, Penngrove, Cotati and a sliver of Rohnert Park, as well as the rolling dairylands of southwest Sonoma County, is so far the county’s lone contested supervisorial race. Supervisor James Gore, whose district takes in much of northern Sonoma County, including Healdsburg, does not yet have an opponent.

Hooper has built his campaign around the need for change, and he said Wednesday that the initial fundraising success, including more than 200 individual donations, was proof that south county residents were ready to answer that call.

Sonoma County political analyst David McCuan said Hooper’s haul was impressive, but not strong enough to overcome the incumbent advantage for someone like Rabbitt, who was first elected in 2010.

“That’s a ‘good’ early number. It’s not enough,” said McCuan, who chairs the political science department at Sonoma State University. “Your early number out of the gate has to be a six-figure number. It has to be that to send the signal that you’ll be more than a protest candidate.”

The $70,000 figure, though, outpaces the amount Supervisor Chris Coursey raised during the first fundraising window of his campaign against Shirlee Zane, then the board’s senior incumbent. Coursey, a former Santa Rosa mayor and Press Democrat columnist, would go on to beat Zane in that March 2020 election, but McCuan did not see parallels in the two races.

“Zane was damaged goods,” he said. “She was reviled in specific neighborhoods.”

Further, Rabbitt has yet to start campaigning. In a text message Tuesday, Rabbitt said his campaign would hold off on events and fundraisers until it was safe to do so. And he added that he has been preoccupied with his role as supervisor.

“To be honest, my focus has been on work and not the campaign,” Rabbitt said. “That is starting in earnest this month – just like when I ran the first time…My first obligation will always be to my work and serving the 2nd District residents.”

Tyler Silvy is editor of the Petaluma Argus-Courier. Reach him at tyler.silvy@arguscourier.com, 707-776-8458, or @tylersilvy on Twitter.

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