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Another challenger for Noreen Evans' state Senate seat dropped out of the race Monday in what may involve political fall-out over a dispute between Evans and Senate leader Darrell Steinberg.

Arcata resident Chris Lehman is the second person to quit the contest for the 2nd District state Senate seat held by Evans, D-Santa Rosa, who is leaving office this year.

Lehman said Monday he will support Sonoma County Supervisor Mike McGuire, who is becoming a heavy favorite to win.

"I just became convinced that he is going to do an amazing job in the state Senate," Lehman said of his former rival. "That's the whole reason I got into the race in the beginning -#8212; to make sure we had that representation. And that's the reason I'm getting out now."

Political observers said other factors likely were also at play, including a dispute between Evans and Steinberg that could have cost Lehman support from the powerful Sacramento establishment.

Lehman is a Democratic Party consultant who helps raise money for state senators, including Steinberg, who in an Oct. 8 email urged his colleagues to endorse Lehman, according to a copy of the email obtained by The Press Democrat.

The following day, Evans sent her own email to senators in which she asked them to hold off backing a candidate in the race, calling it "premature."

That appeared to freeze any unified Senate support for Lehman's campaign.

"The inability of the pro tem (Steinberg) to deliver caucus endorsements undoubtedly was a factor in his (Lehman's) decision," said David McCuan, a political scientist at Sonoma State University.

Evans' email may also have cost her politically.

According to Terry Price, Evans' Santa Rosa political consultant, Steinberg cited her email when he informed her a few weeks ago that he is removing her as chairwoman of the influential Senate Judicial Committee.

"That obviously angered him," Price said Monday.

Evans has led the committee since taking office in 2011, and prior to that, she was a member of the state Assembly's Judiciary Committee from 2004 to 2010.

Evans on Monday declined to comment on the email she sent to Steinberg or the nature of their conversation.

She said it was her understanding that today's<NO1><NO> Judiciary Committee hearing in Sacramento was to be her last as a member of the group.

"To be removed in my last year is extremely disappointing," she said.

Evans, an attorney, said she was planning to hold hearings this year on the impacts of budget cuts to the state's court system, proposed reforms to the state's medical malpractice law and get an update on the California Homeowner Bill of Rights, which she helped draft.

"Obviously, I won't be able to do those things now," she said.

Mark Hedlund, a spokesman for Steinberg, said Monday the pro tem does not comment on committee assignments until they happen. Nor does he comment on "leaked emails."

McCuan said Steinberg has had issues with Evans in the past, and that the endorsement dust-up represents a "convenient set of circumstances" for him to do what he's long desired, and that's to strip Evans of responsibilities.

McCuan said it also reflects Steinberg's desire to "ride herd on his caucus" and seek allies at a time when the Senate leader is trying to distance himself from an FBI corruption probe involving state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello. Steinberg also is running for mayor of Sacramento.

In his Oct. 8 email, Steinberg described Lehman as "one of my trusted advisors" who "played a critical role in helping us achieve a two-thirds Democratic majority last year."

"Please add your name to the growing list of supporters," Steinberg wrote.

In her response the next day, Evans appeared to be holding out hope for other candidates who had yet to declare for the race, including McGuire and Santa Rosa city councilwoman Erin Carlstrom.

She asked her fellow senators to "refrain from making endorsements at this time." McGuire and Carlstrom ended up entering the contest. Carlstrom has since dropped out.

Asked whether the apparent lack of unified Senate support influenced his decision to quit the race, Lehman on Monday said, "absolutely not."

He said senators "were encouraging me to stay in" and that they were offering to "back me all the way."

He said the $140,000 he raised for the contest will be returned to donors.

Lehman also said that a leaked poll in November that appeared to show McGuire with a commanding lead in the race did not factor into his decision. The poll showed McGuire garnering 30 percent of the vote, compared to 4 percent for Lehman and 3 percent for Eric Lucan, a Novato city councilman.

McGuire achieved an even higher percentage of the vote -#8212; 48 percent -#8212; after survey respondents were given information about his background.

McGuire on Monday insisted the race is not his to lose, saying "the hard work has just begun." He declined to say how much money his campaign has raised. The first reporting deadline is Jan. 31.

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