A fundraising barbecue for Sonoma County Democrats Saturday had all the marks of an annual summer ritual for the party faithful.
There were appearances by politicians who have topped local ballots for years and now hold nearly every state office representing the area.
There were rallying cries to turn that dominance into a so-called "super-majority" in the state Assembly come 2012 and take back the House of Representatives from Republicans.
"You don't have these opportunities come along every day or every year," state Assemblyman Jared Huffman, himself a candidate for Congress, told a crowd of more than 100 party loyalists at Howarth Park in Santa Rosa.
There also was another spectacle on display at the party's fifth annual barbecue — candidates involved in a high-stakes game of political musical chairs, driven in part by state redistricting, in part by term limits, and in part by the shifting ambitions of political veterans and upstarts alike.
The result was back-slapping and close-quarter conversations among many people who could face off against each other in next year's primaries. Some were incumbents looking to move up, or maybe even down, the ballot, and others were newcomers maneuvering to take their place.
It made for good theater on a warm summer day.
"Things are changing, boundaries are changing. Now everyone is shifting around," said Sonoma Mayor Laurie Gallian, describing the seats up for grabs and races taking shape.
She compared it to a "giant swirling ball" up in the air. Another observer likened it to a "big rock tossed into the water," the political ripples spreading outward.
In one of many speeches on the day, Huffman, a San Rafael Democrat, sounded a warning note about avoiding political fratricide in the election year.
"As we have these contests," he said, "we need to remember we're all Democrats."
Author Norman Solomon of Marin County stood in the audience, listening intently. He and Huffman are among the five North Bay Democrats now running for the House seat held by retiring Rep. Lynn Woolsey. Others in that group include Petaluma City Councilwoman Tiffany Renee, who was on hand Saturday, Marin County Supervisor Susan Adams and Stacey Lawson, a San Rafael businesswoman.
Other potential matchups took shape around picnic tables filled with plates of hamburgers and watermelon.
State Sen. Noreen Evans of Santa Rosa, rumored to be eyeing a run for Sonoma County's 1st District supervisor's seat, talked with Santa Rosa Councilwoman Susan Gorin, who on Friday confirmed she is considering a bid for the same office.
Both would need to move into the district to run for the seat that extends from Rincon Valley and Bennett Valley in Santa Rosa through the Sonoma Valley.
Evans said she was not "actively working" on a run for the supervisor's position, but also was not ruling it out.
"If she enters the race, it changes the dynamics for everyone," Gorin said later, citing Evans' wealth of financial and political support.
Official candidates for the seat include Gina Cuclis, a communications consultant from Boyes Hot Springs, and Mark Bramfitt, an energy consultant <NO1><NO>who lives just outside of Sonoma. Santa Rosa Councilman John Sawyer may declare his candidacy for the seat this week. Gorin has said she will decide in the next month.