The 2nd Congressional District race will be a fight for second place in the primaries, as three viable candidates work hard to show voters how they differ from frontrunner Jared Huffman, according to a Sonoma State University politics professor who's closely watching the race.
Huffman, who has represented Marin and southern Sonoma counties in the California assembly for the past six years, is leading the pack with $416,424 in campaign contributions and endorsements from many unions. He’s followed by Stacey Lawson, a Harvard MBA and entrepreneur, who entered the race relatively rate in August, but has already amassed $238,391, according to the Federal Election Commission. (Numbers are through Sept. 31, 2011)
Not far behind is West Marin anti-war activist and author Norman Solomon, who has raised $221,422.
And while there is still more than a year to go before the general election, early campaign donations give good indication of a candidate’s staying power, said David McCuan, an assistant professor of politics at Sonoma State University.
“What you’re trying to do with early money is send signals to the media, elites and your competitors that you are a serious, viable, compelling candidate,” McCuan said. “Early donors are your core base.”
A survey of campaign contributions indicates that, broadly speaking, Huffman’s support comes from the Democratic establishment, that includes environmental groups, many attorneys and leaders in the alternative energy sector. The president of Whole Foods has given him money as has the owner Three Twins Ice Cream and the CEO of Clover Stornetta. Nearly $36,000 of his campaign contributions came from Political Action Committes (PACs).
Lawson’s financial support comes from a medley of East coast and West coast contacts, including from leaders of least three spiritual centers, and $10,000 from the CEO of the Men’s Warehouse, George Zimmer and his wife. She has received no money from PACs and put in $1,000 of her own funds into the campaign.
According to McCuan, Lawson is a stealth candidate because of her ability to raise money fast, her own personal wealth and her “newness” in the race.
“Lawson has surprised a lot of people by how well she’s done,” he said. “What the other candidates have to do is weigh the degree to which they attack her, which builds up her profile and gives her a legitimacy as opposed to ignoring her.”
Female candidates have a leg up in the newly drawn district, which now stretches from Marin County to the Oregon border, where voters tend to be more liberal, highly educated and have a history of electing women at a higher rate, McCuan said. A part of the district is currently represented by Lynn Woolsey, who will retire next year.
“A female candidate who is well-known, well-resourced and congruent on the issues gets a bump, especially in the general election,” he said.
Meanwhile, Solomon has received money from a network of progressive supporters, not just from Northern California, but around the country. Medea Benjamin, executive director of Global Exchange has given him funding as have activists from the anti-war group Code Pink and the Middle Eastern Children’s Alliance, which gained attention earlier this year after the Oakland Children’s Art Museum refused to show an exhibit of artwork by Palestinian children, which the group had organized.
Solomon’s message of not taking any corporate cash is resonating with some voters, as well as his strong opposition to the war. But he is well left of the Democratic center and therefore appeals to a much smaller group of people, according to McCuan.
“Solomon is running as a progressive Democrat in this election and that puts him in a difficult position if elected," McCuan said. "He can be the progressive conscience, but there are a lot of issues for someone with a progressive conscience that puts you in the back of the bench and not the front where the players are.”
Solomon’s rhetoric of the ongoing wars gets applause in the North Bay, but the government's official line is that the war is over, McCuan said. Solomon says that despite the continual drawdown of troops, the U.S. is still involved in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Susan Adams, a former nurse and current Marin County Supervisor who has branded herself as the candidate who can “heal Washington” has trailed Solomon and Lawson in contributions, collecting only $85,000 as of the end of September, including $2,275 from PACs and $1,870 from her own funds.
Adams has the political experience and name-recognition, but has suffered to some degree by the fact that those around her on Marin County Board of Supervisors have not rallied around her, according to McCuan. And that “speaks volumes to people who are watching.”
Meanwhile, Petaluma Councilwoman Tiffany Renee has raised only $8,645, including donations from the owner of a Sebastopol pot club and the director of Petaluma sustainability nonprofit Daily Acts. That makes it difficult to take her candidacy seriously, says McCuan.
The race also includes , the lone Republican, and Andy Caffrey, an activist with the North Coast New Green America Party.
But according to McCuan, all the the excitement in the race will happen as Solomon, Lawson and Adams duke it out for second place in the primary, which is scheduled for June 5. And, he says, it might get bloody.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story failed to clarify that the donations came from individuals associated from the above-mentioned corporations and not the companies themselves. Petaluma Patch regrets the error.