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Roberts, Danon in tightening battle for outside donations in District 3 race

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With an open seat on the county Board of Supervisors for the first time in years, and fundraising totals between the two candidates exceeding $830,000, the stakes are high in the District 3 race between Steve Danon, most recently the chief of staff to North County Congressman Brian Bilbray, and Solana Beach Deputy Mayor Dave Roberts.

The district seat was left open after longtime District 3 Supervisor Pam Slater-Price announced early this year that she would not be seeking another term. While the possible election of Roberts would give the county its first Democratic legislator since Leon Williams in 1994, the district — spanning from the coast to Escondido and unincorporated areas in the east and from Encinitas to north-central portions of San Diego in the south — still weighs Republican in voter registration, by a count of 95,562 to 116,349 in the latest report.

While the race is technically non-partisan, Slater-Price, a Republican, drew attention to potential change in party identification for the soon-to-be-elected seat when she threw her support behind Roberts, a Democrat. The announcement left campaign-watchers wondering how her endorsement could affect registered Republicans at the polls, and how it could change the makeup of the longtime all-Republican Board of Supervisors.

Roberts has used the endorsement as a tool for winning over voters looking at national trends of deadlocked, partisan legislatures, saying it shows he’s able to find common ground with both Republicans and Democrats. And a look at the outside money raised by both campaigns suggests a slight win for Roberts in the money game so far, but with a slight change in momentum — in Danon’s favor — since the June primary.

From the beginning of the year through May 19, the last time disclosure forms were filed before the primary, Roberts had raised $233,808. That figure was bolstered by an early $91,000 contribution by Roberts to his own campaign. Danon pulled in $130,710 up through the May 19 report.

Despite the money advantage for Roberts, Danon led the pack in the June primary, taking nearly 34 percent of the vote in the five-person race. Roberts forced the runoff with a vote share of just under 31.5 percent. The third- and fourth-place finishers, Carl Hilliard and Bryan Ziegler, are both Republicans and accounted for more than 28 percent of the returns.

Since the May report, Roberts has picked up $289,966 in additional contributions, about $100,000 of which again came from Roberts himself.

With Roberts’ own contributions from both periods included in the math, the amount he’s raised since May 19 represents a roughly 24 percent increase from what he raised Jan. 1 through May 19. Discounting his own contributions to his campaign, about $142,809 was raised up through the May 19 report and about $190,472 since then and through Oct. 20, representing an increase of 33 percent period-to-period.

Like Roberts, Danon has also raised more in the period after the May report than in the time before, with an increase period-to-period of a little more than 36 percent. He reported on his Oct. 20 filing that the campaign brought in an additional $178,327 in contributions since May. Danon has not reported contributing any of his own cash to his campaign.

That leaves just about a $12,000 difference between the two candidates in outside money raised since May 19 — nearly identical to the difference in outside funds raised by each prior to May 19.

Both candidates have campaigned on job creation and county employee pension reform. Roberts suggests a pension cap that would end $100,000-plus pensions, while Danon wants to eliminate taxpayer-funded pensions altogether, favoring a 401(k)-style plan for county employees.

Roberts, who was formerly the vice president of the defense company Science Application International Corp. (NYSE: SAI), has billed himself as more familiar with the private sector than his opponent, downplaying Danon’s shorter run before as the owner of Benedetto and Danon Public Relations, a public relations firm.

Danon said in a September debate that if elected, he’ll focus on jobs and pension reform, but also was critical of the county’s Neighborhood Reinvestment Program, calling it a “slush fund” wrought with abuse.

Through the years, Danon has hardly been the only person critical of the program, which puts $1 million in discretionary funding for community groups and causes into the hands of each of the five supervisors. The program was modified in 2010 after growing scrutiny over where the money had gone. But as the board has granted a handful of waivers to the rule limiting the grants to capital purchases, Danon remains skeptical and intent on eliminating the program.

Roberts defended the program at the debate, calling it critical to supporting local nonprofits. He’s also outlined maintaining open space in the county as a critical issue, denouncing significant building in rural areas and vocalizing his displeasure with plans to widen Interstate 5 in North County.

He’s earned donations from people associated with North County environmental groups, like Lynne Anne Baker, executive director of the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy; and Elaine Dodge, development director for the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy.

Danon has supported the freeway expansion, saying it’s necessary for the region to build infrastructure to support a growing technology sector. He’s also said he’s in favor of smart growth in the region. Notable donors to Danon’s campaign include Shawn Covell, vice president of government affairs for Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM), and a number of executives from San Diego Gas & Electric.

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