WatchSonoma Watch

North Coast congressional race may be historic



The script for North Coast congressional elections appears due for a major rewrite this year, with two Democrats likely to compete, for the first time

Congressional candidate Andy Caffrey speaks while his fellow candidates, left to right, Susan Adams, Stacey Lawson, William Courtney, Norman Solomon, Jared Huffman, and Tiffany Renee wait their turn to speak at the Congressional Candidate Forum sponsored by the Democratic Club of Southern Sonoma County at the Petaluma Boys & Girls Club on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012 . (SCOTT MANCHESTER/ FOR THE PD)

ever, in an expensive and possibly vitriolic November runoff.

The Democrat-dominated 2nd Congressional District race, with no incumbent and eight Democratic candidates, including three with ample resources, has the earmarks of a contest that ends with a two-candidate, same-party showdown in the fall.

There are two Republicans in the field, but neither is guaranteed a role in the November election under the new top-two, open-primary rules. That could knock their party out of the running by dividing North Coast Republican votes in the June 5 primary.

But Republican voters could play a decisive role in the general election in selecting the region’s next member of Congress, casting their ballots for the Democrat perceived as the more moderate of the two finalists.

That was the premise behind Proposition 14, approved by state voters in 2010. It replaced partisan primaries that tend to reward the most ideological of both parties with open elections that favor moderates and presumably ease legislative gridlock.

The theory is largely untested, and North Coast Democrats want none of it.

A showdown between two Democrats, possibly Assemblyman Jared Huffman and either Stacey Lawson or Norman Solomon, would cost far more money and risk the prospect of intraparty fratricide in a year when Democrats are striving to regain control of the House.

“It’s a massive diversion,” said Huffman, a termed-out San Rafael assemblyman attempting the jump to Congress. “To be stuck in an intramural scrimmage when we should be out taking on Republicans all over the country would be a real tragedy for Democrats.”

A Democrat vs. Democrat campaign from June to November also is likely to turn negative, Huffman said, as the one who finished second in June would have “nothing to lose.”

“It could become pretty spirited,” he said.

For more than a decade, the Democratic primary has determined the outcome of the two North Coast congressional seats, setting up a fall crush not of wine grapes but a series of Republican candidates who were, and are once again this year, underfunded and unknown to most voters.

In 12 general elections since 2000, Rep. Mike Thompson of St. Helena and fellow Democrat Lynn Woolsey of Petaluma have limited their GOP challengers to an average of less than 30 percent of the vote.

Woolsey’s retirement this year, coupled with redistricting’s creation of a coastal district from Marin to Oregon, set the stage for an intriguing trial of the open primary.

Bob Stern, former president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, said there’s a “50-50 chance” two Democrats will prevail in the North Coast primary.

That outcome is most likely in a congressional race with no incumbent in a “supermajority” district where one party leads voter registration by more than 25 points over the other, the nonpartisan think tank said in a 2010 analysis of Proposition 14.

Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 107,000 voters — and by 27 percent — in the 2nd District.

David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political scientist, said the North Coast race “is all about second place.” The likelihood of a same-party runoff is “pretty strong,” he said.

Huffman, the front-runner based on his advantage in fundraising, name recognition and endorsements, is likely to lead the 12-candidate field with about 30 percent of the primary vote, McCuan said.

He sees businesswoman Lawson, activist Solomon and Republican Dan Roberts — all from Marin County — vying for the 22 to 28 percent it should take to secure the No. 2 spot.

If he were the only Republican on the ballot, Roberts would have a good chance of finishing second, propelled by the GOP’s 24 to 28 percent base in the district, McCuan said.

But Michael Halliwell, a retired college professor from Cotati, signed up for his fourth North Coast congressional campaign.

Roberts, who ran as an American Independent candidate in 2010, said he expected to be the only Republican on the 2nd District ballot this year.

He likely would need the vast majority of Republican votes to finish in the top two. In the 2010 Republican primary, Halliwell got 32 percent, limiting the winner, Jim Judd, to 68 percent.

Halliwell “has every right to enter the race,” Roberts said, acknowledging that if Halliwell takes an ample portion of the vote, “he’s going to kill Republican chances.”

But if Huffman’s vote runs above 30 percent and the next two Democrats divide most of the rest of their 70 percent share, Republicans “are in the game,” Halliwell said.

Halliwell said he won’t step aside to help Roberts get on the November ballot.

“If Dan Roberts can beat me fair and square, then he will have earned it, but I’m not going to hand it to him,” he said.

Thompson, whose re-election in the new 5th District is virtually assured, said he expects Huffman to dominate the primary, drawing the same crossover support from Republicans and independents that Thompson enjoyed along the North Coast.

“I see that as the most likely scenario,” said Thompson, who has endorsed Huffman and will campaign with him.

Huffman questions the notion that two Democrats will win in June, pointing to the outcome of the only California congressional race to date under the top-two, open-primary format.

Democratic heavyweights Janice Hahn and Debra Bowen were widely expected to take the top two spots in a special election last year in Los Angeles’ 36th District, with five Democrats and six Republicans in the primary.

But Hahn finished first with 25 percent and Republican Craig Huey beat Bowen by 1 percent to claim second place, sustaining a Democrat vs. Republican runoff, which Hahn won by 10 points.

By all accounts, Democrats are wary of an intra-party campaign for Congress.

McCuan said it would be a “dogfight” that tarnishes the party’s brand.

Stern suggested the state Republican Party might endorse one of the Democrats.

“It would be smart strategically,” he said.

Halliwell said the Democratic candidates hope the election script remains unchanged this year.

“They’d all like to be No. 1 running against a Republican in November,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.

28 Responses to “North Coast congressional race may be historic”

  1. Dear Chuck Becker,

    I need to have your e-mail address to give you the data you want. Like most blogs, this site scrambles some of the formatting of paste-ins, making it very difficult to post tabular numerical data. My e-mail address is halliwel@csulb.edu. You make some valid points, but carry them a bit too far.

    1) In the territory of the new 2nd CD, Meg Whitman got 32.6% of the 2010 vote against Governor Jerry Brown, and Carly Fiorina did about the same. This is the starting point for a GOP congressional candidacy. Jim Judd’s 2010 29.7% in the 6th CD, needs to be adjusted for the better registration in the new 2nd CD, bringing it to about 33%. The point is not doing better than Judd did in 2010, it is building into a 2012 a substantial the support Judd generated. Much of Judd’s message re Lynn Woolsey’s policies is applicable to nearly all of the field of Democrats now running in the 2nd CD.

    2) If the Solomon campaign is indeed energized, this comes at the expense of Huffman, not Republican-leaning voters, who see Solomon as following in Woolsey’s footsteps. We Republicans would like nothing better than a very close race between Huffman and Solomon. There are six other Democrats in the 2nd CD race, one of whom has the resources to tap into Democrats who don’t want to vote for an established political figure (Huffman is a termed out Assemblyman, and Solomon was President Obama’s delegate from the North Bay at the 2008 Democratic National Convention). It is likely that the “other six” Democrats will garner at least 25% to 30% of the aggregate vote (as did the bottom six in the 1992 Democrat primary which nominated Lynn Woolsey in the 6th CD). If Mike Halliwell can run as far ahead of the Top of the Ticket, as he did in 2008 compared to John McCain (4.4%) this puts him at 36.6% in terms of the Meg Huffman Bench Mark in the new 2nd CD. If the sort of joint Halliwell/Roberts joint appearances can be arranged as took place in 2010 (like the Marin Conservative Forum Candidates Night), this could easily boost turnout of Republican-leaning voters to the point where the combined Halliwell/Roberts vote is at least 40%. Since Roberts is the official CRP endorsed candidate in the 2nd CD, he will make up some ground versus my name recognition advantage and we both could end up close to 20-20. If the “other six” reach an aggregate of 25%, this leaves only 35% for Huffman and Solomon to divide. If this splits 18% to 17%, we could very well have an all Republican runoff in November.

    3) The fact that Republicans can exert an important influence in November, if neither of our 2nd CD candidates makes it into the runoff, is a “safety net” which encourages GOP activists to “go for it” and try to make the All Republican November scenario a reality.

    I will discuss “number crunching” aspects of the 2nd CD race with any interested person who contacts me at halliwel@csulb.edu

    I don’t share bilateral communications without permission, but if you put a CC on your e-mail to me I will hit the “reply to all button” in my response. I recommend that this be done with richardwinger@yahoo.com (he is a very knowledgeable observer of the North Bay political scene).

    Mike Halliwell (2nd CD Republican candidate)

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  2. Chuck Becker says:


    I’ll accept your numbers as correct, I’m sure they are, and I’m glad I was wrong. I just wasn’t wrong by enough to make a real difference. I worked for Jim Judd and I believed in his candidacy. I was disappointed that with all the organization and effort and energy, we still ran into the brick wall of D6 politics. That’s caused me to drop back and re-evaluate priorities. I’m now focused on preventing a Progressive from replacing Boxer, I’d take a moderate Democrat any day over that prospect.

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  3. Liz says:

    @ Chuck Becker
    2010 election results from Sonoma register of voters:
    Jim Judd REP 47,232 31.4%

    I think if my math is correct that is more than 30% but I may be wrong ;-)

    It’s not about the R or D next to the name, you actually have to listen to where the candidate stands. Not all candidates are hard line R or D.
    I vote for the person on what they say not what political party they are running for. I would hope others do the same.

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  4. Chuck Becker says:

    Does Mike Halliwell have any data to show that a Republican candidate can draw more than 30% of the vote in a North Bay Congressional election? No. There is none. In 2010 Jim Judd injected as much energy into a Republican NorthBay campaign as any in the past 30 years, and he still couldn’t break 30% of the vote.

    A Republican challenger can only serve one purpose: to energize the Solomon campaign. If Democrats see that it might be ‘one of theirs’ against a Republican, they will line up behind Solomon in droves (differentiation).

    Republicans aren’t going to like hearing this, but here it is. The best strategy for Republicans in this District is to back an Independent, with a tacit acknowledgement that they’ll vote for a moderate Democrat who’s not a Progressive.

    Mike Halliwell doesn’t seem to understand that relative to Lynn Woolsey, that would be a huge victory. Huffman is an career zombie politician, but he’s 1000X preferable to Norm Solomon. Although, as the Democrats are more likely to lose the Senate than they are to win the House, it really wouldn’t matter who we send to DC.

    So by that reasoning, it doesn’t matter. But it does. If you’re a Republican, here’s my tactical advice. Back an independent, and let a moderate Democrat know that if they’re the only choice on the two person ballot, you’ll vote for them.

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  5. Graeme Wellington says:

    Obama says he can’t control gas prices but can control the temperature of the Earth. Agenda 21 is starting to make sense to me.

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  6. Vowel Movement says:

    “OK, so you are saying that George W. Bush brought gas from $4.12/gal to $1.85/gal in 7 months?” ~ Skippy

    No, my friend. I simply said that in June of 2008 gasoline was $1.85 per gallon and in December of the same year, it was nearly $4.00 per gallon. It was, I believe, you that tied the price of gasoline to the sitting president.

    Who is sitting in the White House has very little to do with the price at the pump. Crude oil is a global commodity. It responds to global demand and global unrest. The world market for crude responds similarly to the US market. Speculation and demand drive the price, not the President.

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  7. David says:

    When gas prices rose while George Bush was in office it was his fault? Now that you guy is in the White House, rising gas prices are speculators fault? It must be nice to see things so clearly!

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  8. As a college professor who has studied politics for five decades, I believe that I have a firmer grasp on the political realities in the new Second Congressional District, than Chuck Becker who believes that any Republican candidacy is futile. Does Chuck Becker really feel that it will be easier to overtake current front-runner Assemblyman Jared Huffman, than the more liberal candidate now far back in second place (Norman Solomon) who has less name recognition and financing?

    I am happy to compare my campaign strategy (built on the positions I have consistently defended in my races against Lynn Woolsey) with the approach set forth by Dan Roberts . To check out what I quote as being Roberts’ political approach, type the following phrase into the Google caption box: “Mill Valley Patch: The GOP Versus Phil Burton’s Ghost (Dan Roberts Interview)”

    In this August 25, 2011 article by Richard Rapaport, notes:

    “[Roberts] ran as a write-in American Independence Party candidate for Congress” [in the Marin/Sonoma 6th CD.]” [Roberts discusses 2012 strategy:] “With four or five Democrats and one Republican running…” he says, calculating a possible electoral scenario that could favor a lone Republican running against a pack of Dems. Roberts runs through the makeup of the district, with 21 percent Republicans and a similar number of independents and “declines to state”, which initially makes a Republican electoral victory seem remote. With new rules that mandate a runoff between the two top vote getters, however, it is not out of the question that a Republican like Roberts could sneak into the runoff. “Sixty-seven percent split four ways, we’re there one of two,” Roberts observed.

    Rapaport notes how Roberts’ lesson learned from his previous congressional campaign as an American Independent Party member has persuaded him to switch his approach to the progressive end of the political spectrum: “Roberts at least felt that he gained an understanding that in the Bay Area being affiliated with a major political party is a necessary evil and holding some progressive ideals an electoral necessity.”

    Dan Roberts may well modify his approach as the 2nd CD campaign continues, but my entry into the race will not be effected. Simply put, I believe that Republican-leaning voters deserve a choice, without which center/right voters would have no leverage and no way of influencing how the Representative elected from the new 2nd CD votes in Congress.

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  9. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Demosthenes-Zuma can’t explain. Obama isn’t responsible. The speculators on Wallstreet are responsible. It used to be that those who really needed the oil (or food or other commodity) would speculate in order to keep costs low IF the costs should go up. It was a gamble because the prices could just as well go up and whatever you needed would cost you more for your business. Now the majority of speculators are professionals who NEVER INTEND to buy the product. It’s pure gambling on their part AND THEY DRIVE THE COSTS UP FOR EVERYONE ELSE. It’s buy low now and sell high later TO US. Oil production is at an all time high. There IS NO lack of oil.

    Funny that the Republicans complain that Obama is guilty when during the Bush administration everything was done to gut every regulation with the help of Congress. I don’t hear them saying that we NEED TO CONTROL THOSE SPECULATORS and give suggestions on how that can be done. You won’t hear anything practical coming out of their mouths because THEY SUPPORT THESE SPECULATORS fully. THIS is the “free” market. Free for the rich to make money that’s taken away from the rest of us.

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  10. J L Anderson says:

    “Thompson, whose re-election in the new 5th District is virtually assured”

    In Sonoma County and the North Bay, you can’t fix stupid!!!

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  11. Skippy says:

    OK, so you are saying that George W. Bush brought gas from $4.12/gal to $1.85/gal in 7 months?
    Sounds like we should have FDR’d him to a third term.
    How come “The One we have been waiting for” is so hapless and impotent?
    Oh right. The evil oil co.’s and wicked racist capitalists are destroying the economy and their own profitability specifically to undermine this lightweight “Lightworker”.
    Better quit while you can.

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  12. Dan W. says:

    Vowell Movement,
    You are right. Gas and oil speculators have driven prices up. This reason is so because they speculate due to unfriendly national policies toward oil production- along with turmoil in the Middle East, that the future oil supply is going to be less with no signs that demand is decreasing. Based on fifth grade economics, supply and demand is sets prices. If speculators speculated lower gas and oil prices based on what we know about our current oil production conditions and the unrest in the Millde East, the speculators would be collecting unemployment checks and we would all carve holes in the bottom of our cars so we can all “Yabba Dabba Do” like Fred Flintstone.

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  13. Chuck Becker says:

    A Democrat will represent the district. The only question is whether it’ll be a radical Democrat (if a Republican gets on the ballot) or a moderate Democrat (if a Republican doesn’t get on the ballot). It’s not rocket science. It’s simple enough for a college professor to understand.

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  14. Vowel Movement says:

    “Regular gas was at $1.85 on the day of Obama’s immaculation…er…inauguration.” ~ Skippy

    Your clever word play notwithstanding… gas was at $4.12/gallon in June of the same year, under Bush’s watch. Do make a point please.

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  15. Fast Track says:

    What would be historic would be if someone who believed in capitalism, private property, personal rights and small government was elected in Sonoma County.

    The chances of that happening in this one party fascist county are about the same as Spain re-establishing rule in Mexico.

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  16. Skippy says:

    Regular gas was at $1.85 on the day of Obama’s immaculation…er…inauguration.
    More than double that today after complaining about Bush for 3 1/2 years.
    Incompetent doesn’t come close to describe the amateur in the White House.
    If you think he cares about your pain, think again.

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  17. Frank Matters says:

    Vowel, Demosthenes
    Zuma is more right then wrong
    Dems are mostly responsible for the lack of mining crude oil, coal. in all responsible for mining in general.
    Dems have closed off more fed lands to exploration, (keystone pipeline obama veto, Californias coast, Alaska, Gulf of mexico etc)
    37% decline in public lands and a 7%increase on private lands that the dems and enviornmentalist are trying to shut down.
    California has had regs in place for mining that has had a very negative effect to the State Revenues and wiggens added to this with sb670 est. 100 million loss but i fear its even worse the smaller towns are feeling the trickle down effect of this bill passing.
    can you show me support for mining oil by a dem
    puffman a DINO, LMAO
    No new taxes

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  18. Reality Check says:

    Oil prices made simple.

    If a president says “the window of opportunity is closing for Iran,” that’s war talk. War in the Middle East threatens the supply of oil, which will cause its price to rise. It works the same for every commodity whose supply is threatened.

    When a president organizes a world boycott of oil from a major producer, potentially taking 1mm barrels/day off the market, that will also cause the price to rise.

    Whether these polices are good or bad isn’t the point. To suggest that Barrack Obama has nothing to do with the price of oil is just plain silly.

    Then of course are his other policies, but they just mean higher prices in long term.

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  19. Our political system has been perverted into a money game. I don’t see it changing until there’s a revolution or enough people with sense being elected and having the guts to fix it. In the mean time,what this is really about is having an *effective* voice in D.C. Until the system changes, I WANT someone with real experience representing me. Jared Huffman fits the bill.

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  20. Vowel Movement says:

    Zuma… you’re blaming the increase in gasoline prices on the Dems? Really? It’s oil and gas speculation that is driving prices up, not the Dems.

    I respect your right to rail against that which you believe isn’t right for our country, but for pete’s sake, educate yourself.

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  21. Demosthenes says:

    Zuma, please explain to me how “Dems are responsible for $4 going to $5 gas”? Last I checked, the US’s oil production (and prophets from oil companies) were at all time high levels. I also seem to remember that oil was at $4.21 under Bush.

    Please, amaze me.

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  22. taxpayer says:

    Why do republicans even run? Why bother? Let the democrats run the state into the ground.Nobody to blame but themselves.

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  23. zuma says:

    What we dont need is another career politician! Huffman should go out and get a real job and get off the public political welfare funds.

    Woolsey gave us a corrupt judiciary, put our children in debt up to their butts, and gave us a bike path! But she and other Dems are responsible for $4 going to $5 gas, and driving businesses overseas and out of California!~

    Do we want another tax and spend liberal democrat???

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  24. DINO buster says:

    Huffman has campaign signs along the 101 corridor in Petaluma at both the highly controversial Regency (Target) and Deer Creek (not Lowes, maybe Freidman’s, probably WalMart) developments.

    Huffman seems to be courting a lot of big money campaign donors that usually support the Republican candidate. Well he seems to have aspirations as a career politicians and doesn’t seem to have much of a backbone. He is a perfect puppet.

    DINO = Democrat In Name Only. Yep, that’s Huffman.

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  25. Mercyme says:

    The only time “top two” has played out so far, the pundits who predicted Dem v. Dem were proven wrong. Here is the link to the 36th Congressional District results last year: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California's_36th_congressional_district_special_election,_2011#Primary

    It’s important to remember how hard it is for anyone, in a race this crowded and with both parties lumped together, to get to 20% or more of the vote.

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  26. Tuber says:

    This comes down to a measure of intelligence for both Dems and Reps. If Reps allow their votes to be split rather than uniting to give Dan Roberts at least 70% of the Republican vote, then they deserve to be on the sidelines in the fall.

    If Dems are stupid enough to send Solomon, Lawson, or someone else into a runoff with Huffman, then they deserve the damage to their party and weakening of their resources that will ensue.

    But if you do the math (which the PD didn’t), this looks pretty academic.

    Huffman should get 30-35% (safe assumption based on previous polling), Roberts as the GOP endorsed and serious GOP candidate should get at least 20% (consistent with Judd’s showing vs. Halliwell in 2010).

    The remaining 45-50% gets divided up among the rest.

    Here’s where the PD analysis is too shallow. You know that lower-tier candidates Halliwell, Renee, Caffrey, and Courtney will get about 5% each just for showing up. The lesser candidates (Lewellan and the rest) will collectively get another 10%. That totals about 30% of the vote between low-tier and lessers, leaving only 20-25% left to be DIVIDED between Solomon, Lawson and Adams.

    Basic math tells you that unless Solomon, Lawson or Adams is able to get almost all of that(very unlikely), they’re not going to make the cut.

    Look at the Hahn/Bowen primary and it bears this out.

    So why does the PD want to depict this as a likely Democrat v. Democrat situation? Selling papers? Or shilling for Bosco’s gal?

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  27. Steve Klausner says:

    Could be worst. Imagine how many candidates there would be if there was public funding of campaigns.

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  28. DeeDee says:

    Be expensive? What growers vs Bosco Boys?

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