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The money race begins in LA Sheriff’s contest

Seven candidates are running for LA County Sheriff.
Seven candidates are running for LA County Sheriff.
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Campaign finance reports are due out this week from LA County Sheriff’s candidates.  But they may not provide much help in figuring out who’s the frontrunner in the first competitive Sheriff’s contest in 16 years. 

Most of the candidates have barely begun to raise campaign cash. Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, and Assistant Sheriffs Todd Rogers and James Hellmold jumped into the race only in the past few weeks – after embattled former Sheriff Lee Baca announced his early retirement.

Baca stepped down Thursday. The LA County Board of Supervisors has named John Scott Interim Sheriff.

Friday, former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who’s been campaigning for six months, announced he’s raised $381,000. A spokesman for former Sheriff’s Commander Bob Olmsted said he’s raised more than $240,000.

So far, Tanaka’s been the only candidate to advertise, and it’s been entirely online. Its nearly impossible to search online for anything related to the Sheriff’s Department without seeing one of his political ads pop up.

Read profiles of the seven declared candidates for L.A. Sheriff

Two lesser-known candidates, former Sheriff’s Lt. Patrick Gomez and LAPD Sgt. Lou Vince, have yet to say how much money they’ve raised. 

The big question: how much money will it take to run a competitive campaign? With no incumbent in the race, estimates range from a few hundred thousand dollars to one million dollars.

Because most of the candidates have little time to raise money for the June primary, expensive TV ads may not be an option for them.

“For this race, it’s going to be about slate mailers and earned media,” Olmsted spokesman Dave Jacobson said. In politics, news coverage is known as earned media.

A spokesman for Hellmold said grassroots support is important too.

“These are the people who will go out and knock on doors for you,” spokesman Mike Phillips said. “In a close race, that’s invaluable.”

If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote in the June primary, the top two finishers will face off in the November general election.

The last competitive race for sheriff was in 1998. Baca was running against incumbent Sheriff Sherman Block in a tight contest. But Block, 74, fell in his home and died five days before the election, sealing victory for Baca.