Labor and abortion-rights activists have poured nearly $50,000 into the intense county supervisor race between Contra Costa Community College Board President Tomi Van de Brooke and Danville Mayor Candace Andersen.
Funded by two independent expenditure committees, robocalls and mailers remind voters leading up to Tuesday's election that Van de Brooke is the abortion-rights option, while Andersen, a conservative Mormon, calls abortion a social issue irrelevant to the job of a county supervisor.
Whether or not a candidate's positions on social issues do, or should, matter in a local nonpartisan race has been a combustible thread throughout the campaign.
One mailer depicts a woman with her mouth taped shut and the word "silence," a reference to Andersen's failure to answer Planned Parenthood's standard candidate questionnaire.
"My 20-plus years' experience with the (Contra Costa) Board of Supervisors, regardless of party affiliation, has been that they are moderate and mainstream," said Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 159 business manager Aram Hodess, whose union helped pay for the mailers. "A lot of county voters would see a supervisor who is not abortion-rights -- and Candace is clearly not -- as being way outside the mainstream."
Every incumbent Contra Costa supervisor supports abortion rights, as did the late District 2 supervisor, Gayle Uilkema, who was also an ordained lay Catholic minister.
The women's disparate views on social issues mark the sharpest distinction between the two well-spoken and experienced candidates.
They both, for example, oppose new housing in the Tassajara Valley -- a litmus test for San Ramon Valley voters -- and have largely nuanced differences on policies such as pension reform and public safety funding.
Voters care how she will manage the budget, Andersen says, not how she feels about abortion or same-sex marriage. While personally opposed to both, Andersen has repeatedly said she will not and has never used her elected post as a pulpit from which to impose her private religious views.
And the Republican has no beef with Planned Parenthood, an organization she said has been wrongly demonized by anti-abortion groups.
"I have no social issues agenda," Andersen said. "This is a red herring. If you look at who is funding these mailers and robocalls, the motivation is clearly about partisanship and labor interests."
The independent expenditure committees' backers include Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, the county's large public employee union, and an assortment of trade unions, such as operating engineers, plumbers, sprinkler fitters, electrical and sheet metal workers
Van de Brooke, a Democrat, disputes her opponent's assessment, calling the committee's participation strong evidence that Contra Costa residents do care what candidates think about social issues.
"Many voters are fearful of having a more extreme political view on the board," she said.
She cites Orange County, where supervisors in 2009 fought over two grants to Planned Parenthood for teen sex education and breast cancer funding.
"What happened in Orange County shows that if you elect enough conservatives, they could wreak havoc," Van de Brooke said. "Maybe it's a stretch to say we would ever have five conservative tea party people on the board in Contra Costa. But do we want to start down that path?"
In practice, however, supervisors have little latitude when it comes to restricting abortions or other reproductive services, said Contra Costa Health Services Director William Walker.
The county has $2.6 million in federal and state-funded contracts this year with Planned Parenthood to provide family planning, prenatal, obstetric and gynecological services at its hospital and clinics.
A third candidate, Sean White, of Lafayette, is also running to represent District 2, which includes 220,000 voters in San Ramon, Danville, Lafayette, Moraga, Orinda, Rossmoor, Alamo and adjacent unincorporated areas.
Contra Costa County District 2 supervisor candidates and two independent expenditure committees have raised a combined $227,596, according to the most recent finance reports. Here's a breakdown:
See the latest campaign mailers at www.ibabuzz/politics. Read Contra Costa County campaign finance reports at www.cocovote.us. Click on campaign finance link in the center of the home page and choose a search option.
Editor's note: The third candidate, Sean White, of Lafayette, opposes the campaign contribution donation system and raised no money.