And they’re off!

The race for the Oroville area’s District 1 county supervisor has technically been underway for months, with scrappy underdog Bill Connelly challenging the politically well-connected incumbent, current board Chairman Bob Beeler. But an old-fashioned exchange of barbed press releases last week made it official.

First, Beeler’s campaign, which is being honchoed by political consultant Cliff Wagner (who also serves as chief of staff for Assemblyman Rick Keene, R-Chico), took Connelly to task for failing to report his campaign funds to the Clerk-Recorder’s Office. The snarky release stated that Connelly was 55 days late in filing his mandatory campaign finance reports and implied that Connelly, who has never held public office, was something less than a serious candidate.

“He is either ignorant of the rules or he has failed to raise much in the way of resources. In either case, it does not bode well for his campaign,” the release stated.

Connelly shot back his own press release, admitting that he had failed to file and stating that the mistake had been fixed. He went on to accuse Beeler of “gutter politics” and challenged Beeler to a debate.

“I have no intention of staying up nights to find ‘dirt’ on my opponent,” stated Connelly. “I will leave that chore to those who seem to enjoy it.”

When reached for comment, Connelly told the CN&R that the filing blunder was “a dead issue,” one that he hoped wouldn’t distract voters from the issues of the race. He said a volunteer secretary for his campaign had not understood the filing rules and simply didn’t know they were due. The clerk-recorder accepted the forms and waived a late filing fee that could have been almost $600.

In a phone interview, Wagner defended Beeler’s release, saying that if Connelly could not follow the rules of campaigning, it was likely he wouldn’t be able to follow the rules of being a board member. Wagner also said he hadn’t heard of Connelly’s invitation to a debate but said it wasn’t out of the question.

Beeler’s camp has reportedly raised about $31,000, while Connelly claims to have just over $13,000. The election will be held in March 2004.