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Demos barbecue, chew political fat

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.


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