Amato’s Take on the Sheriff’s Race

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KCBQ AM-1170 and Washington Times Radio Talk Show Host Rick Amato recently weighed in on a sheriff’s candidate debate held September 12 in El Cajon….

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to sponsor and co-moderate a debate among the San Diego County Sheriff candidates.  It followed the East County TEA Party, where an estimated 1500 people attended. Questions were made available for the audience to ask of the candidates. All four candidates participated.

It was a loud, engaged audience with plenty of sparks flying among the candidates themselves. Here are my observations from the debate.

(Candidates in alphabetical order)

Jim Duffy-

Key Endorsement– The Deputy Sheriff’s Assoc.

In college football there are no pre-season games which allow a team to prepare and get an accurate measure of itself, thus teams tend to play “close to the vest” at the start of each new season.  This was my impression of Jim Duffy.  He began quiet, low key and cautious. 

He ended the debate picking up his energy and taking the attack to current-sitting Sheriff Bill Gore. 

My take is that Duffy is surveying the landscape and determining where to position himself. La Suer would appear to be the clear-cut choice among conservative voters (see below) with his endorsement by Joe Arpaio. Bill Gore is obviously to the left of La Suer. In my opinion, Duffy is determining whether to position himself to the right or to the left of Bill Gore. In a county which is turning increasingly blue and has a large number of independent and libertarian voters, it could be the difference between winning and losing.

For What It’s Worth– Jim Duffy seems to have decided to try and make age an issue. In his opening statement he announced that he was 47-years-old. In his closing statement he told us he was 48. 

As a guest on my radio show a few weeks back he volunteered to the audience that he was 47. The point is somewhere along the line Duffy has determined his age makes him more electable. It may have worked for President Obama against John McCain in November, but I don’t see it as a big deal here.

Bill Gore

Key EndorsementThree members of County Board of Supervisors

I have often been told that it is lonely at the top. For Bill Gore–the perceived leader as the current Sheriff of San Diego County–he found out just how lonely it can be. He was on the receiving end of aggressive, calculated attacks by the three other candidates all afternoon and often times drawing loud jeers from the audience to his responses. It could not have been a fun afternoon.

The debate showed the vulnerability of Gore on such issues as: his 9.11 FBI record, the latest flap on his approving the positioning of sonic weapons at Townhall meetings, and his misstatement that Calif. is a “Shall Not Issue” state (right to carry a concealed weapon).

His downtown consulting firm had better prepare their client on how to address these issues more effectively, and do so quickly, before the campaign spins dangerously out of control…a la Francine Busby and the whole “don’t need papers for voting” fiasco.

For What It’s Worth – Al Gore once said that in hindsight as a presidential candidate he had too many consultants and “was never able to truly be himself”. Bill Gore is clearly the candidate surrounded by the most consultants and handlers. The other candidates possess a refreshing grass roots flavor that is missing here.  To his credit, he could have chosen to duck this debate but did not. 

Jay La Suer

Key Endorsement – Joe Arpaio, Sheriff Maricopa County, AZ

With an endorsement from Joe Arpaio (“America’s Sheriff”) and with scheduled guest appearances by Arpaio in San Diego, La Suer will win the conservative vote. The question is, will that be enough?  As pointed out previously, the county is trending more blue and my instincts tell me that many folks in the coastal inland areas (La Jolla, Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe) “don’t get” the whole Arpaio thing. One thing is certain: liberal voters do not.

La Suer is a steady, even-keeled communicator who exudes trustworthiness. I believe he can win valuable independent and moderate democrat votes. To do so though will test his skills and strategy as a politician.

For What It’s Worth – Since the announcement of Arpaio’s endorsement, La Suer has begun receiving campaign contributions from all over the state and country–unheard of in a local election.

Bruce Ruff

Noteworthy – #2 Vote Getter in Previous Election

Bruce Ruff was animated and on the offensive all day long. Not all candidates enjoy the campaign trail or the spotlight, clearly Ruff enjoys both. In fact he would probably make a good radio talk show host if this whole Sheriff thing doesn’t work out.

He favors concealed weapon permits, said he would “force the federal government to be held accountable” on enforcing illegal immigration law (although I am still unclear how) and was critical of the Sheriff Department’s management of taxpayer money.

For What It’s Worth – From the outset of his campaign, Ruff said he would not seek endorsements, “because an endorsement is a favor which needs to repaid”.  Ruff was also the first candidate to predict that Bill Kohlender would resign in midterm, thus paving the way for the County Board of Supervisors to appoint Bill Gore as Sheriff. That of course is exactly what happened. The big challenge for Ruff will be money.

Winner and Losers-

There was not a clear cut winner, but there was a clear cut loser. As pointed out above, Bill Gore could not have been overjoyed with how things went.

What May Surprise You-

Three of the four candidates (Bill Gore the exception) support CCW (the right of citizens who pass a background check to carry a concealed weapon). That’s good news for NRA supporters and sure to dishearten most liberal voters.

Gore’s explanation for not supporting: His claim that California is a “Shall Not Issue” state, meaning it is illegal and thus out of the hands of the Sheriff Department.  All other candidates were surprised at his statement and agreed that California is instead a “May Issue” state.

Illegal Immigration-

All four candidates agreed that border security and illegal immigration were local issues of national security.  Duffy and La Suer said they would take advantage of a law permitting the Sheriff’s Department to enforce federal law, thus enforcing illegal immigration law. Gore took exception and said the “catch and release” program (detaining for one hour and waiting for border agents to arrive) is sufficient and effective. La Suer called San Diego a sanctuary county. Duffy and Gore do not believe San Diego is a sanctuary county.

Keep An Eye On-

The sonic weapon story. This one figures to be just getting heated up. 

Tying It All Together-

Any candidate who receives 51% or more of the votes in June will be the outright winner. Very unlikely. In which case the top two vote getters advance to a November run off.

Audience Feedback:

“That was the best debate I’ve seen in 20 years.  It got real lively.”

John Minto, City Councilman, Santee

You can hear the entire debate at:

Rick Amato is a radio talk show host, political commentator and syndicated columnist. His show airs weeknights 9pm-11pm on 1170KCBQ.

You can visit his website at


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