There are almost 50,000 voters in Sonoma County's 5th Supervisorial District, and Ernie Carpenter is betting that many of them won't vote in the June primary.
What's more, the 69-year-old candidate is banking that the lion's share of most likely voters — those over 50 years old — will cast their ballots for him.
"If everyone with a little gray and slightly balding votes for me, I'm in good shape," Carpenter quipped recently.
When he entered the race two months ago to challenge first-term incumbent Efren Carrillo, he both shocked the district and pleased one of its biggest constituencies — the conservation and environmental community.
Environmentalists had been concerned that Carrillo's opponent, former Santa Rosa City Councilwoman Veronica Jacobi, was no match for Carrillo's four years in office and his ability to raise money, as evidenced by his current campaign war chest of about $80,000.
Dennis Rosatti, executive director of Sonoma County Conservation Action, reiterated this week that Carpenter's entry instantly turned an "election" into a "race."
There will be a runoff in November of the top two finishers if no one wins more than 50 percent of the vote.
For his part, Carrillo, 31, rejects attempts to characterize him as pro-development at the expense of the environment. Carrillo, the first Latino elected to the board, says he balances his political views to also encourage jobs and says he's worked to represent all of the district. Rampant development, he said, is a "ghost of Sonoma past."
"They're tilting at windmills that aren't there anymore," Carrillo said, adding that growth in Sonoma County has been sluggish for more than a decade.
"I frame my decisions with a lot of consideration and thought," Carrillo said. "My job is to look at the realities before us, to recognize the need for jobs and the need to keep the community viable."
Carrillo's endorsements are extensive and include Rep. Mike Thompson, State Sen. Noreen Evans and Assemblymen Jared Huffman and Wes Chesbro. He also is endorsed by his fellow supervisors, District Attorney Jill Ravitch, Sheriff Steve Freitas, a number of former county supervisors, the North Bay Labor Council, the North Bay Association of Realtors, the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce and Sonoma County Alliance.
Jacobi, who served as a Santa Rosa councilwoman from 2006 to 2010, has been endorsed by Sonoma County Conservation Action, which also endorsed Carpenter, an unusual move for the group. Jacobi's individual endorsements include Santa Rosa council members Marsha Vas Dupre and Gary Wysocky and former Petaluma Mayor Pamela Torliatt.
Jacobi, 53, said she's raised about $18,000 for her campaign and has kept busy visiting areas across the expansive district while trying to keep her carbon footprint low. Whenever possible, she carpools to election forums and recently she rode a bus back from Jenner, engaging some of the riders in lively discussions.
At a recent forum, Jacobi said she has a "jobs and climate recovery plan" that would encourage the creation of a "green mecca" modeled after Silicon Valley. She also wants to promote a self-sustainable local food system.
"I have a proven voting record that takes care of people and doesn't put big money above the greater good," she said, adding that she "will never forget the future when solving current challenges."
The district covers the largest area of county's five supervisorial districts. It includes the coast, the lower Russian River area and all of Sebastopol, as well as areas of west and southwest Santa Rosa.