Those little touches in Carolyn Leavens' campaign aren't the work of Carolyn Leavens.
The repeated demand for debates with her opponent, incumbent Supervisor Susan K. Lacey? They were the brainstorm of Santa Barbara political consultant John Davies.
The wine-and-cheese parties at which she woos influential community leaders? Also Davies' suggestion.
The distinctive peach hue of her campaign signs? She discussed it with Davies first.
Davies is not creating a new, improved Carolyn Leavens, but he is sharpening the political newcomer's delivery and making sure she comes across as what he said she is--a forthright, hard-working rancher with heartfelt respect for both public lands and private property.
Leavens' is not the first Ventura County campaign that Davies has choreographed, nor will it be the last.
Davies and his partner, Irvine-based Rick Manter, already have one winner under their belts--a $40-million Oxnard Elementary School District bond issue to build four new schools that voters approved in April.
In addition, they are advising the Ventura County Economic Development Assn. on an initiative that would tack a half a cent transportation fee onto the 6% sales tax.
And Oxnard Mayor Nao Takasugi has contracted with Davies to run his reelection campaign.
It's all in a day's work for Davies, who for 10 years has helped package Santa Barbara causes and candidates ranging from independent bookstores, city parks and young Democrats to luxury beachfront hotels, onshore oil-processing facilities and conservative Republicans.
Now, the 36-year-old consultant, who is given to red-paisley ties and matching suspenders, is making inroads into Ventura County, where campaigns frequently have been managed without professional help.
"I see an opportunity to do business there," said Davies, who is generally identified in Santa Barbara with pro-development groups. "There are a great number of very responsible people . . . who would like to run for office that I would like to work for."
Unlike the political strategists who cultivate "images" for virtually every national candidate, Davies does not attempt media make-overs.
Clients say his skill lies in conducting polls, researching issues, publicizing candidates through carefully planned media events and helping draft the letters and mailers that target influential voting groups.
Familiarity With Issues
Leavens, who talked to several Los Angeles consultants before settling on Davies, said she was drawn by his familiarity with local issues and his track record in Santa Barbara, a city comparable in size to Ventura.
Leavens said Davies does not tell her what to wear or suggest that she distort her background or views to win over voters. But he does refine her speeches and delivery.
"He will sit down and coach me and say, 'You've got to say this and this.' He'll say what I should stress more, but he doesn't bring in extraneous material," Leavens said.
For instance, Davies told Leavens to inject herself into speeches.
"This business of saying, 'If I am elected, I will,' is very hard for women of my generation," Leavens said.
Early on, Davies conducted a poll for Leavens that gauged community support and pinpointed voter concerns. The results encouraged her.
Davies also suggested that Leavens challenge Lacey to a series of debates, although the idea never panned out because Lacey declined to participate, favoring forums involving all five candidates instead.
Davies said he also has urged Leavens to more vigorously attack her opponent, but Leavens has stopped short of outright hostility, saying it might offend Ventura County voters.
To be sure, public appearances are not the campaign's bread and butter. Davies arranged a series of wine-and-cheese parties and coffee klatches at the homes of Leavens' well-connected friends that gave the candidate an intimate forum to discuss issues with potential new allies.
"I would not have the faintest notion how to go about this on my own," said Leavens, who has shelled out $17,500 to Davies and Manter since late last year and considers it money well spent.
With the Oxnard school bond issue, Davies took a different tack.
Fernando Elizondro, a district spokesman, said Davies developed a campaign based on the results of a telephone poll of 400 residents for which he drew up the questionnaire.
Davies wrote and sent out three mailers to parents that outlined the district's plight, asked for support and urged them to vote. He also suggested that Elizondro whip up community support by sponsoring a large-scale activity. The district opted for a rally in the park, setting up booths with food and games, distributing campaign literature and printing T-shirts with red schoolhouses emblazoned with the logo "Vote Yes for New Schools."
The rally drew 2,000 people and the bond measure, which faced no formal opposition, passed. A similar measure in Simi Valley failed. Davies and Manter's fee: $9,000.