By GUY KOVNER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Is Assemblyman Jared Huffman the next congressman from the North Coast?
The San Rafael Democrat’s path to Capitol Hill is clear if Republican Dan Roberts holds onto second place and gets into November’s runoff against Huffman, who finished first in Tuesday’s primary election.
Huffman and seven other Democrats competing to replace Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, collectively received 75 percent of the vote, and experts say Huffman, who had 37.3 percent himself, would have little trouble consolidating the Democratic vote in November and winning election to Congress.
Huffman is “a mainstream North Coast California environmental Democrat — period,” said Andy Merrifield, a Sonoma State University professor of political science.
But it’s a different story if Norman Solomon overtakes Roberts as tens of thousands of uncounted votes — mostly absentee ballots turned in at the polls Tuesday — are tallied over the next four weeks.
For now, Solomon is in third place, 1,379 votes behind Roberts out of a total of 37,893 votes cast for the two men.
Solomon’s political consultant, Tom Higgins, estimated there are 30,000 to 50,000 uncounted votes in the 2nd Congressional District: 22,000 in Marin County and the rest divided up among Sonoma County and the other four counties in the district.
Solomon, a well-known liberal author and activist who jumped into elective politics this year, said Wednesday he has a chance to catch up.
“The trend line is very positive for our campaign,” he said, noting he gained ground on Roberts as results were reported Tuesday night.
Roberts, a Tiburon securities broker and a political newcomer, disagreed.
“If we split the difference (among the uncounted votes), the gap remains the same,” he said.
Merrifield said the outcome is “too close to call” but Roberts “should be sleeping better than Solomon” until the tally is final.
Absentee voters used to be more conservative than Election Day voters, but now the two groups are indistinguishable, Merrifield said.
Huffman’s 22-percentage point margin over Roberts started with his dominance in Marin County, where the three-term assemblyman received 47.2 percent of the votes and Solomon was second with 14 percent.
Huffman also won in Sonoma, Mendocino and Humboldt counties, while Roberts was first in tiny Trinity and Del Norte counties, where Republicans and Democrats are virtually tied in voter registration. Democrats dominate by a better than 2-to-1 average in the other four counties combined.
Roberts got the better of Solomon in a clear north-south divide in the district, which grows more conservative as you go north up Highway 101.
Solomon bested Roberts by a combined 1,693 votes in Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino, finishing second in all three counties, which hold three-fourths of the district’s voters.
Roberts more than made up the difference in Humboldt, Del Norte and Trinity counties, beating Solomon by a combined 3,072 votes.
Huffman rates Marin and Sonoma as the district’s liberal anchor, with Mendocino a mixture of conservative and liberal currents and “not a lot of middle ground.”
Roberts said he spent a “substantial” amount on TV ads in Humboldt and Del Norte counties, both served by Eureka stations.
“It paid off,” he said.
Roberts also benefitted from the simple math of eight Democrats dividing their vote, while he and Mike Halliwell of Cotati, who got 6 percent, were the only Republicans.
Democrat Stacey Lawson, a San Rafael businesswoman who raised more than $900,000 but started with zero name recognition, wound up fourth with 10.1 percent.
“She clearly did not catch fire,” Merrifield said.
Susan Adams, a Marin County supervisor, had 8.4 percent and the other four Democrats less than 2 percent apiece.
(You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)