Mayor Pro Tem Eric Lucan announced his state senate candidacy earlier this
week, the news came as a surprise to many in local political circles.
As recently as two years ago, however, his candidacy might not have even been possible.
That's according to a veteran Marin County political consultant with knowledge of state and local politics.
A remapped Senate District 2 remains a solid Democratic stronghold, but the addition of rural Northern California communities changes what was once a staunchly progressive district to a more conservative one likely to be friendlier to a centrist candidate such as Lucan.
The district made up mostly of Marin and Sonoma Counties along with a patch of San Francisco in its most recent configuration has since been redrawn as a massive 370-mile long behemoth that snakes through Marin, Sonoma, Lake, Humboldt, Solano, Napa and Mendocino Counties - all the way up the Oregon border.
Lucan's candidacy wouldn't have been viable in the district's previous configuration, according to Kathleen Russell Consulting Political Director Steve Burdo, a consultant with no ties to any candidates in the race.
Candidates traveling north are likely to find more conservative working class voters more concerned with meat and potato issues such as jobs and their local economy than plastic bag bans that are popular in the progressive Bay Area, he said.
“There's a lot of the stuff that we tend to forget about in our Bay Area bubble in regards to issues that are important to working families,” Burdo said. “That kind of stuff is more prevalent up there.”
Lucan's candidacy will likely be viewed as a test case in a newly-drawn district in which the political dynamics aren't entirely known, Burdo said. And an open primary that allows open voting only adds to the uncertainty.
“Those Republican votes that most Democrats normally discounted, now if you're in a tighter race; you're going to see a more concerted effort to go out and engage those voters,” Burdo said.
But Burdo warned that lurching too far to the right is a potentially risky strategy in what remains a solidly “blue” district.
“Sometimes that can be tough to balance, but if he can attract a more moderate Democratic crowd and have some appeal to those a little further to the right up north, I think with this open primary he has much more of a shot than he would have had two years ago,” Burdo said.
For his part, Lucan, a 32-year-old first-term councilman, declined to identify himself as a centrist, moderate or progressive in an interview with Patch.
"I'm a Democrat," he said tersely.
Lucan deflected the notion that he's a fiscal conservative, saying “I don't think that would be a fair assessment.” He said he'll be more forthcoming about his public policy positions once he unveils his platform.
“I'm not going to get into details of how I would characterize myself,” he said. “I'll be putting out more information on my website. I'll leave it at that.”
Novato councilwoman Jeanne MacLeamy, a Lucan ally, however, did characterize the him as a “fiscal conservative” in an interview with Patch earlier this week.
“I know Eric to be fiscally conservative and I think that will in great measure help us with some of the issues we're facing in California," she said.
Lucan declined to address questions about his political evolution.
Lucan confirmed that he was registered as an Independent (“decline to state” in California) at one point but declined to offer a general timeline of when he switched affiliations.
He bristled when asked to confirm whether he served as a Young Republican chair in college, as a Patch reader suggested in the comments section of a post earlier this week reporting his state senate candidacy.
“I don't want to make a big story about that,” he said. “If somebody wants to delve into the history they can, but I'm a 'strong' Democrat.”
Burdo said he has no direct knowledge of Lucan's political strategy, but suggested the candidacy of former San Rafael Councilman Marc Levine offers a potential roadmap.
Levine, a centrist, came out of nowhere to win a State Assembly against a heavily favored Michael Allen.
Levine pulled off the delicate balancing act, courting conservative voters while keeping just enough base Democrats to eke out a narrow victory in last November's election.
“What Eric's going to have to do is really focus on the issues, and if there is another candidate that's backed by the Democratic Party (establishment), really appeal to that more moderate crowd, kind of in the ilk of Marc Levine,” Burdo said.
“Eric would be more likely to focus on the issues than raising the Democratic flag and touting himself as somebody that he may not really have the backing to prove.”
But with risks come rewards, Burdo said, noting that a Lucan victory would likely catapult him to rising star status in state politics.
"If he won this, I would imagine he'd be on a lot of peoples' radars," Burdo said.