A virtual unknown when she joined the North Coast congressional race last year, Stacey Lawson presented herself as a successful businesswoman and educator bringing her experience to the political arena.
Now, with absentee ballots arriving on doorsteps and the June 5 primary election less than a month away, questions from other Democratic candidates about Lawson's business background and voting record are gaining prominence in the campaign.
That's due in part to a consensus on most issues among the eight Democrats competing for votes in a liberal district, amplified by the perception that three of them — Lawson, Susan Adams and Norman Solomon — are competing for second place behind Assemblyman Jared Huffman.
Under California's new top-two, open primary system, the two leading vote-getters, regardless of party, will move on to the November general election.
Two Democrats are likely to prevail in the primary, experts say, noting that two Republican candidates will split a minority portion of the vote.
At candidate forums since mid-April, Adams, a Marin County supervisor, and Solomon, a West Marin activist and author, have taken shots at Lawson, who made a sudden impact by raising about $740,000 in campaign cash, second only to Huffman with about $864,000.
Their ammunition includes Lawson's record of voting four times in 12 elections as a San Francisco resident from 2003 to 2008, and her leadership of a high-end women's purse company that failed to pay payroll taxes and manufactured its products in China.
Adams, who has a fraction of the other three contenders' cash, said that Lawson's poor voting record is reminiscent of Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman's record, a factor in her 2010 loss to Gov. Jerry Brown.
Whitman, then a former CEO at eBay, came to electoral politics from the business world, as did Lawson.
"I think it's an important indicator," Adams said. "Women fought for the right to vote. There is no excuse (for not voting)."