By GUY KOVNER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County voters on Tuesday will begin the process of replacing retiring Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey and filling a heavily contested Assembly seat, likely creating first-ever runoffs between two Democrats.
In addition, with new district boundaries in force for the first time, voters will have a say in four other races for Congress, the Assembly and state Senate.
Tuesday’s election, the first statewide vote under California’s top two primary system, is expected to set up three November run-offs between two Democrats instead of a Democrat and a Republican.
The 12-candidate race to replace Woolsey in a newly shaped North Coast district is likely to culminate in a November contest between Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and another Marin County Democrat, either businesswoman Stacey Lawson or author/activist Norman Solomon.
The primary election system approved by state voters in 2010 stipulates that all legislative candidates appear on the same ballot and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party preference, advance to the November general election.
Assemblyman Michael Allen and upstart Democratic challenger Marc Levine, a San Rafael city councilman, are the likely November contestants in the new 10th Assembly District, topping a field of seven candidates in Tuesday’s primary. Allen, elected from Santa Rosa, has rented an apartment in Marin County in order to run in the newly configured district.
Democratic Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro of Arcata has a big experience and fund-raising lead in the third intra-party competition with Guerneville activist Tom Lynch for the 2nd Assembly District seat in November.
There are no Republicans in the primary, which includes 21-year-old Democratic newcomer Firenza Pini of Hayfork and Green Party member Pamela Elizondo of Laytonville.
The prospect of Republicans losing a place in three legislative races is a consequence of the party’s waning numbers on the North Coast.
The party is “nearly out of business,” said Brian Sobel, a Petaluma political consultant. “The (voter) registration numbers just don’t support them.”
Democrats outnumber Republican registered voters by more than 2 to 1 in the two congressional districts spanning Sonoma County and the North Coast.
Incumbent Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, faces two Republican challengers, both political newcomers. Running for his eighth term from a newly configured inland district, he has more than $1 million in campaign funds and is a strong bet to beat his opponent in November.
Huffman ranks as front-runner in the North Coast race based on his name recognition, endorsements covering the political spectrum and a fund-raising lead with more than $1 million, said Andy Merrifield, a Sonoma State University political science professor.
Lawson, a political newcomer who has raised more than $900,000, and Solomon, well-known among liberal Democrats, are vying for second place.
Five other Democrats, including Marin Supervisor Susan Adams and Petaluma Vice Mayor Tiffany Renee, trail far behind in the money-raising race.
Dan Roberts, a Mill Valley securities broker, would have a chance if he were the only Republican in the race, and a moderate one, as well, Merrifield said.
But Roberts will share a minority segment of the vote with Michael Halliwell of Cotati, who has lost three previous congressional bids.
No matter which Democrat ultimately prevails, Merrifield said voters will send a liberal to take Woolsey’s place in the House. Huffman, Lawson and Solomon are “inches apart” on an ideological scale, he said.
The new 2nd Congressional District extends from Marin County to the Oregon border. It excludes Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati and Sonoma Valley, which are part of Thompson’s 5th District stretching to Napa and parts of Lake, Contra Costa and Solano counties.
The 10th Assembly District covers Marin County and includes Petaluma, Cotati, Sebastopol and the southern portion of Santa Rosa.
In the North Coast Assembly race, Chesbro has a political career dating back to 1974 and including two terms in both the state Senate and Assembly.
His reconfigured district takes in the northern portion of Santa Rosa and runs to the Oregon border.
Democratic Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada and Republican challenger John Munn, both from Davis, are competing in the 4th Assembly District, which takes in a small chunk of Sonoma County, including parts of Rohnert Park and the Sonoma Valley.
Regardless of Tuesday’s outcome, they will square off again in November.
Democratic state Sen. Lois Wolk of Davis is unopposed in the new 3rd Senate District, which includes Rohnert Park, Cotati, Petaluma and Sonoma.
(You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)