A seven-candidate primary behind them, Democrats Michael Allen and Marc Levine now shift their focus to each other for what promises to be an expensive and bruising intra-party runoff in November for the 10th Assembly seat.
Tuesday's top-two primary set up the showdown between Democratic candidates with Allen finishing atop the field with 30 percent of the vote and Levine second with 24 percent.
On the heels of strong messages sent by voters in San Jose and San Diego Tuesday to cut public workers' benefits and overhaul the public pension systems, that issue could loom over fall election.
Levine, a San Rafael city councilman since 2009, has shown some success reaching concessions from Marin County workers and Allen is on a state committee working to bring forward a public-pension overhaul plan this summer.
Allen, who owns a home in Santa Rosa's Oakmont neighborhood, was elected in 2010 to represent the 7th Assembly District, which was redrawn during redistricting last year. He rented an apartment in San Rafael to run for the 10th District.
Levine said he will continue to challenge Allen's financial backing from the Sacramento Democratic establishment and big labor unions. Allen has raised about $600,000 in the campaign and another $170,000 was spent in his support from independent committees.
"Allen spent $800,000 to buy this election and he only got 30 percent of the vote," Levine said. "I had only $135,000 at my disposal, and we still kept this a close race."
Allen said he will spend the next few weeks in Sacramento working to pass a state budget on time and to produce a pension report by July or August. Then he will continue reaching out to Marin County voters.
"People can judge for themselves on the results," he said. "They can judge me on my performance, collaborating with Democrats and Republicans in Sacramento."
The newly drawn 10th District comprises all of Marin County, part of Santa Rosa and portions of western and southern Sonoma County.
The results in the two counties showed a dramatic difference in voter preference. In Sonoma County, Allen finished first with 33 percent of the vote, compared to 17 percent for Levine. But in Marin County, Levine pulled in 30 percent, with Allen trailing at 28 percent.
For November, Allen and Levine have to figure out how to win voters who didn't vote during the primary and sway the 46 percent of voters &#8211; including thousands of Republicans and independents &#8211; who cast votes for the other five candidates, said Sonoma State University politics professor David McCuan.
"Marc has to grow out of San Rafael and Marin, and Michael has to be more than just a Sonoma County labor candidate," he said. "The race becomes a classic insider vs. outsider matchup, the Sacramento guy vs. the young upstart. That makes many Democrats uncomfortable."
Levine characterized the November election as a "referendum on Sacramento and the direction we need to take state government."
"People are fed up with dysfunctional state politics, exemplified by the Sacramento power-play in this district," he said. Most of Allen's financial backing has come from Sacramento and large portions from in-kind assistance from the state Democratic Party.
Allen said he is "mystified" that Levine paints himself as a local, when he has lived in Marin County for less than a decade and represents fewer Marin voters than Allen currently does in the 7th Assembly District. Allen has lived and worked in the North Bay for more than three decades.