A self-made millionaire before she turned 30, Stacey Lawson sees herself as living the American dream.
The idea that hard work and initiative pay off proved true for her father, a truck driver who built his own trucking company and replaced his family's used mobile home with a new three-bedroom house near Port Angeles, Wash.
Lawson parlayed her Harvard Business School idea into a software company that she sold after two years for $60 million, keeping $6 million and going on to hold corporate executive jobs paying as much as $300,000 a year.
Now Lawson, 41, who's lived quietly and privately in San Francisco and San Rafael for 20 years, is engaged in her first-ever political campaign, bidding for the most sought-after political post on the North Coast. She's running as a pro-business Democrat with liberal values, intent on lifting the middle class out of an economic funk.
"I come from those roots. I had the benefit of living the American dream," Lawson said. "I see that slipping away."
She has made the progression from entrepreneur to congressional candidate — Lawson calls it an "evolutionary path" — aided by an Indian guru who kindled her spiritual quest and a San Francisco political maven who cultivated her political inclinations.
Lawson, who is single and has been a San Rafael resident for the past three years, has bolted into a wide-open race for the Congressional seat being vacated after 20 years by Democrat Lynn Woolsey, the liberal Petaluma Democrat best known for her steadfast opposition to the Middle East wars.
She is now out meeting voters in the district that stretches from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border, seeking the 3,000 signatures needed to qualify for the June 5 ballot without paying a $1,740 filing fee.
She's already grabbed attention by raising more than $450,000 for her campaign, and intends to pull in a total of $2million, money she will need to overcome a near zero in name recognition.
Lawson's fundraising has eclipsed one of her leading opponents, activist Norman Solomon, who has spent decades cultivating relations with the North Coast's most liberal Democrats. And she's betting on a November runoff against Democratic Assemblyman Jared Huffman, who has represented the North Bay in Sacramento for five years, has the largest campaign warchest and a long list of endorsements.
On Wednesday night, seven Democratic candidates, including Lawson, Solomon and Huffman, are expected to participate in a public forum at the Petaluma Boys and Girls Club.
Lawson is unknown to most of the district's 400,000 registered voters, but two Democratic heavyweights are already in her corner.
Doug Bosco, a Santa Rosa attorney and former North Coast Democratic congressman, said he is quietly introducing Lawson to his friends.
"Everyone is enthusiastic about Stacey," said Bosco, who lives in a McDonald Avenue mansion in Santa Rosa and has closed ties to monied Democrats. "She has a charisma and a sense of purpose about her that is appealing to people."
Pointing to Lawson's business record, Bosco said: "She can take ideas and make jobs out of them."
Susie Tompkins Buell, who lives in a penthouse apartment in San Francisco's Pacific Heights neighborhood, is among the Democratic Party's most prolific donors and is on Lawson's campaign finance committee.