Lynda Hopkins, an organic farmer making her first bid for elected office, received the most votes Tuesday in the primary election for western Sonoma County’s seat on the Board of Supervisors, setting up a November runoff against veteran North Coast politician Noreen Evans.
Hopkins and Evans were the top two vote-getters in a field of five candidates seeking to succeed Efren Carrillo representing the 5th District.
With 71 of 71 precincts reporting, Hopkins, received 39.7 percent of the vote to 37.9 percent for Evans, an attorney, former state legislator and Santa Rosa councilwoman.
“I’m really humbled by the support. We exceeded my expectations, and I’m so honored that people came out to support me, but it’s still very close,” said Hopkins, 33, of Forestville. “I think people got excited about bridging divergent interests and outside-the-box policy solutions … It’s still going to be a lot of hard work getting through November.”
The outcome sets up a showdown expected to determine the balance of power on the Board of Supervisors and steer decisions on key issues, including moves to address the county’s housing crisis, fund road repairs and regulate expansion of the county’s signature wine industry.
The race — the most highly watched contest for local office in the county this year — is also a stark contrast between two liberal Democrats. Evans is a longtime lawmaker with nearly two decades of experience in local and state office. Hopkins is a newcomer who jumped into politics through opposition, in part, to the scale of a tribal housing development taking root near her farm outside Windsor.
“Voters are choosing between the new kid on the block who has been able to rise out of nowhere and her seasoned opponent who is well-known and very firm in her positions,” said David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political scientist. “In a sense, it’s going for the great unknown whose candidacy is a leap of faith, or choosing someone who is very experienced and has many supporters as well as detractors.”
Evans has received financial support from labor groups and environmentalists, including an independent campaign launched by the county’s largest labor union. Hopkins has received a large share of her financial support from wineries, business organizations and real estate groups — many of the same supporters who backed Carrillo during his 2008 and 2012 campaigns.
A Hopkins win in November would likely form a more centrist voting bloc with Supervisors David Rabbitt and James Gore. An Evans win would form a more liberal voting bloc with Supervisors Shirlee Zane and Susan Gorin.
In an Tuesday night interview, Evans said she was not surprised by the results.
“I’m really pleased; this is what we expected,” said Evans, 61. “Both Hopkins and I worked really hard. But this particular election has a lot to do with the future of Sonoma County — the struggle between those who want to develop it and those who want to preserve it and keep it a place everybody can afford to live. I’m the candidate who is going to fight for the 99 percent.”
The candidates’ financial backing has become a major issue during the run-up to Tuesday’s primary, many voters said.