In the North Coast's congressional race, it all comes down to second place.
The June 5 primary election will narrow the field of 12 candidates down to two finalists, who will compete in November for the $174,000-a-year job awarded by about 400,000 registered voters from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border.
Assemblyman Jared Huffman of San Rafael is considered the favorite based on his $865,000 in campaign funding, 800-plus endorsements and name recognition after six years in the Legislature, securing approval of more than 60 bills.
A feisty competition for second place pits Marin County Supervisor Susan Adams, businesswoman and political newcomer Stacey Lawson and activist/author Norman Solomon.
The other eight — four more Democrats, two Republicans and two candidates with no party preference — are long shots, their chances diminished by lack of funding, obscurity and Democrat domination of the district.
A series of candidate forums established little difference among the Democratic contenders on issues such as Afghanistan, health care and the environment. But two of them focused attention on Lawson, a well-funded political newcomer.
The winner will replace Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a Petaluma Democrat whose liberal politics, including early and vocal opposition to the Iraq War, endeared her to North Bay Democratic voters for 20 years.
Woolsey's retirement and California's redistricting set up a wide open race in the 2nd Congressional District, which covers a long stretch of the entire North Coast, excluding Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati and the Sonoma Valley.
Huffman is competing as the only Sacramento legislator, termed out of the Assembly; Adams as a county lawmaker with a health care background; Lawson as an entrepreneur and Solomon as a liberal advocate with a national following.
"In this district, you have to be progressive, you have to care about working people and you definitely have to care about the environment," said Lisa Maldonado, North Bay Labor Council executive director.
Adams, Huffman and Solomon said they would join the House Progressive Caucus, which Woolsey previously led, but that group's influence is waning, said David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political scientist.
Assuming Republicans retain control of the House, the progressives, in the wake of Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich's primary election loss, will have "marginal influence" in the chamber, McCuan said.
Running on record
Huffman, 48, a former environmental attorney, is running on his record of getting bills passed amid the partisan gridlock in Sacramento. "I'm the only candidate who's been tested that way," he said.
His favorite measures, Huffman said, include a law that compensates residents for surplus energy they spill into the grid from renewable sources such as wind and solar arrays, and lighting efficiency standards that have been adopted into federal law and will cut electricity use for lighting in half by the end of the decade.
His endorsements include more than 50 current and former female elected officials from around the district, a clear bid for consideration by voters who may consider the North Coast a "woman's seat" in Congress.
Huffman also pointed to endorsements from across the political spectrum, including environmentalist Bill Kortum and business-oriented former Sonoma County Supervisor Tim Smith.
But the notion that he's the front-runner, Huffman said, is "a dangerous thing to start thinking in politics."
In April, the campaign — by then about 9 months old — turned testy as Adams, Lawson and Solomon began publicly trading shots.