Bill Gore, the appointed sheriff and FBI transplant who was lambasted by opponents as an elitist outsider with a checkered history, commanded a vote lead so untouchable no one had predicted it — especially not the candidate himself.
“I’m new to politics. I’ve never run for an office in my life. I didn’t know what to expect,” Gore said. “Certainly I was hoping to win in the primary but I realized it was going to be tough with three people in the race. I consider that (wide margin) a real vote of confidence by the voters.”
Gore, who received 60 percent of the vote with 24 percent of precincts counted, unofficially won the race outright, avoiding a November runoff. Sheriff’s Lt. Jim Duffy came in a distant second with 20 percent, followed by former Undersheriff Jay LaSuer with 19 percent.
Gore’s supporters were decidedly more enthusiastic.
“We are ecstatic, we are over the moon!” exclaimed a breathless Marla Marshall, a top aide to Gore, minutes after learning about the early mail-in ballot results.
Voters apparently were not distracted by prominent themes of the anti-Gore campaign — that Gore wasn’t willing to enforce immigration law, was blocking rights of gun owners, wasn’t taking advantage of jail space, wasn’t enforcing 70,000 outstanding warrants, failed to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks and botched the 1992 Ruby Ridge standoff.
“Clearly the vote was based on stability and experience, and the campaign was able to get that message out, and it resonated with the people,” said veteran political consultant John Dadian. “Especially in the final days of the campaign, plenty of mud was thrown but it didn’t stick.”
Gore credited his decisive victory to “a very positive campaign, talking about my accomplishments, my leadership, my management experience and what I’ve done at the Sheriff’s Department.”
“I’m glad that the voters, so far anyway, have seen the positive side of my message,” he continued, “and I think it speaks volumes to the quality of the men and women of the Sheriff’s Department.”
Early in the evening, Duffy — son of the late five-term sheriff John Duffy — sported a bright green tie his father would have liked and a wistful smile.
“It’s still pretty early,” he said. “I’m kind of surprised by the big spread, given the number of issues raised that impact public safety.”
He continued with campaign rhetoric, sending out one last zinger to Gore: “This isn’t a second job for me. I’m not retired from somewhere else. This is my career.”
Duffy’s supporters were decidedly more cynical.
Jesus Montana, president of the San Diego chapter of the Peace Officers Research Association of California, said the murder of Chelsea King in February gave Gore the exposure he needed to win the race.
“I think if it wasn’t for the actions of (convicted murderer John) Gardner and the unfortunate death of Chelsea and the San Diego Police handing over the case to the Sheriff’s Department, the circumstances would have been different,” he said, noting that the crime occurred in the city of San Diego, which is not in the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Department.
Gore was able to showcase his leadership skills on a national stage when the county was rocked by the murders of Chelsea and another North County teen, Amber Dubois.
The exposure at numerous press conferences in uniform and a somber in-charge demeanor — plus national television appearances — raised the profile of man who usually avoided the spotlight.
Tonight Gore said only that he was proud to be sheriff and proud of the work of his deputies during such a trying time.
As appointed incumbent and top fundraiser, Gore was widely considered a frontrunner leading up to the primary. He’s had a long law enforcement career, including 32 years with the FBI, plus a master’s degree and an impressive list of prominent backers — including San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and Gore’s predecessor, the immensely popular retired Sheriff Bill Kolender.
But he was also a wild card, having never been elected.
Gore was appointed sheriff a year ago when Kolender left office midway through a four-year term to care for his ailing wife. Some said Gore’s takeover was engineered by Kolender and other members of downtown’s elite establishment to give him the advantage of incumbency.
Leading up to the primary, it had been too difficult to predict whether Gore would win outright with more than 50 percent of the vote or whether Duffy and LaSuer would attract enough votes to force a runoff in November.
Fundraising certainly played a prominent role in the victory.
Gore once again crushed his opponents in fundraising, bringing in $80,000 in the most recent reporting period ending May 22. That brings his fundraising total to $305,000. Add the independent spending by the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation’s political committee with $107,538 and the Lincoln Club with $10,500, and Gore’s total fundraising totals reach almost $425,000.
Duffy raised $22,091 during the second reporting period, bringing his total fundraising to about $82,100; add about $20,000 of independent spending from the Deputy Sheriffs Association and $25,000 from an umbrella group for law enforcement unions, plus another $25,000 from other associations around the county and state, and Duffy’s final number is close to $150,000.
LaSuer reported that he received $17,879 in donations this period, including a $5,000 loan, bringing his fundraising total to $60,235. It appears no organizations spent money independently on LaSuer’s behalf.
Duffy suggested that his apparent loss came down to money. “We are not the big money candidate. We are very grassroots.”
Opponents tried to use Gore’s FBI career against him by casting him as an outsider who has no experience as a street deputy. Yet they assailed him for bravado when he disclosed that he does have experience using deadly force during a bank robbery and was part of an FBI team that rescued airplane passengers from a hijacker.
Both events occurred early in his career in Seattle in the 1970s.
Duffy and LaSuer also assailed Gore’s actions in connection with the local investigation of Sept. 11 hijackers and the infamous standoff at a cabin on Ruby Ridge in Idaho.
Gore was in charge of the Seattle FBI office when he was called to assist at Ruby Ridge, the mountain cabin of Randy Weaver, who had failed to appear in court on weapons charges. The FBI was called in after a deputy U.S. marshal was killed there. During a 12-day standoff with hundreds of federal agents surrounding the cabin, Weaver’s wife was mistakenly shot by an FBI sniper, and prior to that Weaver’s 14-year-old son was killed during a gunfight with U.S. marshals.
In a blog post today, LaSuer continued his assault: “If FBI Agent Bill Gore had been at all competent in his job — 9/11 would not have happened: the information, the human intel, was readily available to him, but Bill Gore was incapable of interpreting the info.”
Gore has said his office would have been able to track San Diego-based hijackers if the CIA had shared intelligence with the FBI. And Gore countered that he was not in charge at Ruby Ridge, and while others were disciplined for their actions, he was later promoted.
Gore’s solid victory means voters embraced the status quo and were not swayed by Duffy’s impressive list of more than two dozen law enforcement association endorsements. Nor did they blame Gore for political infighting within the board of the powerful Deputy Sheriffs Association.
The board gave Duffy its coveted endorsement last year, and that usually translates to big financial backing. But a major power shift followed months later when two new directors were elected in January, giving pro-Gore forces a 5-4 majority.
That majority blocked any meaningful independent spending on Duffy’s behalf. And then the new members ousted the pro-Duffy president, Ernie Carrillo, who is now working the night shift in Santee.
When asked whether he has fences to mend with the Deputy Sheriffs Association, Gore said no.
Hank Turner, interim president of the Deputy Sheriffs Association until a new president is elected at a meeting Thursday, gave a different response.
“I think everyone has fences to mend. It’s been somewhat contentious, and there’s been a lot of accusations, and if the numbers hold, it’s time to do what’s best for the Sheriff’s Department and get back to work. Not that we haven’t been doing that, and everyone needs to put this behind them,” he said.
Contact Kelly Thornton directly at email@example.com. And follow her on Twitter @kellymthornton.