James Gore, a Sonoma County native whose family is in the wine industry and who returned to the area this year after leaving a senior post in the Obama administration, is jumping into the open race for the north county supervisor's seat.
Though well-versed in government from his seven years in Washington, D.C., including three years working in the Department of Agriculture under President Obama, Gore, 35, is making his first bid for public office. He announced his candidacy to succeed Mike McGuire for the $134,000 county supervisor's job Wednesday.
Gore faces the extra hurdle of running as a relative unknown. But he called himself "a proud public servant" and said he sees "fresh perspective" as an advantage in the race. He intends to build name recognition and earn support through a "tireless" door-to-door campaign, he said.
"I see it as being on the ground, full-court press, meeting every resident I can in the district, earning every inch," he said. "That's the only way I've approached anything in life and that's the way I'm going to approach this."
Gore now lives outside Healdsburg with his wife Elizabeth and their two-year-old daughter. He was raised in Cloverdale and Santa Rosa and graduated in 1996 from Montgomery High School. He has an undergraduate degree in agriculture from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and a masters in political management from George Washington University.
His opponents in the contest for the open 4th District seat so far include two political veterans, foremost among them longtime Windsor Councilwoman Deb Fudge, who last month announced her third attempt to claim the north county seat.
The other two declared candidates are former Healdsburg Mayor Pete Foppiano, who lost a previous bid for supervisor in 1994, and Keith Rhinehart, a former UPS supervisor and part-time teacher.
Gore, who returned from Washington after leaving the federal job in May, was widely reported to be making the rounds among political insiders and others after McGuire announced in mid-October that he would run instead for the open state Senate seat representing the North Coast.
Gore said he doesn't see the supervisor's seat as a launching pad to higher office. "I came back to be in Sonoma County, not to be in D.C. and not to be in Sacramento," he said.
His avowed "passion" for environmental conservation and roots in agriculture — his father was a founding partner in Vyborny Vineyard Management and his family owns a 30-acre vineyard outside of Cloverdale — could shake up the county's traditional political fault lines. Fudge also claims strong environmental credentials. The growing field also could splinter support and funding from business and labor groups.
Candidates will need to have a solid base to survive the June primary and crossover appeal to win the seat outright, said David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political scientist.
"You can't win that race just being the environmental or pro-business candidate," he said.
After college, Gore followed in his father's steps by joining the Peace Corps. He served in a remote region of southern Bolivia.
He later worked for a Washington-based consulting and lobbying firm, representing the California wine industry on international affairs and trade.
He joined the Obama administration in mid-2010 and served most recently as assistant chief in the Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, which specializes in environmental protection involving private landowners.