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Assemblyman Jared Huffman has maintained his fundraising lead in the crowded race for the North Coast seat in Congress that seems likely to set a campaign spending record of $3 million or more for the region.

Huffman, D-San Rafael, reported $864,567 in campaign receipts through March 31.

Political newcomer Stacey Lawson, a San Rafael businesswoman and educator, collected $740,797, and a third Democrat, Marin activist Norman Solomon, had $526,802, according to Federal Election Commission records.

With more than $2 million in campaign funding for the top three alone, total spending for the primary election is likely to top $3 million, said David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political scientist.

"We've never seen dollars like this concentrated among three people," he said.

If two Democrats emerge as winners in the primary, spending will soar far higher by the November general election, McCuan said.

"Voters are just now turning their attention to this race," he said.

Spending in most recent North Coast congressional campaigns has been restrained by the fact that Democratic incumbents rarely faced a serious primary challenge and easily beat Republican opponents.

An exception was in 2006, when Rep. Lynn Woolsey of Petaluma faced a Democratic primary election challenge from Joe Nation and spent $1.4 million. Nation, who then held the Assembly seat now occupied by Huffman, spent nearly $720,000 and received 34 percent of the vote.

"We're excited," said Huffman, who is termed out of the Legislature this year. "We're ahead on the money."

Huffman said his spending on media advertising will start next week, with vote-by-mail ballots due out in three weeks and the June 5 primary election election seven weeks away.

There are 12 candidates — eight Democrats, two Republicans and two without party preferences — competing for the seat in Congress created by Woolsey's pending retirement.

Under the new, top-two primary rules, the two leading vote-getters in June, regardless of party, will advance to the November election.

Lawson, who described herself as "a relatively unknown entrant," said she is "on track" for a finish in the top two. She said she has raised more money than Huffman in the past three quarters.

In the first quarter of this year, that margin was slight. She reported collecting $284,838 compared to $278,916 for Huffman.

A $3 million spending total for the race "sounds about right," she said.

Lawson, backed by Democratic Party fundraising powerhouse Susie Tompkins Buell of San Francisco, made waves by raising more than $450,000 last year.

Solomon had a strong first quarter of the year, raising $219,467, but his cash on hand at quarter's end, $176,368, puts him at a disadvantage to Huffman and Lawson, who had $562,281 and $450,778, respectfully.

"Money buys exposure," McCuan said, adding that Solomon needs to "ramp up his fundraising."

Solomon said his "grassroots campaign" leads the field with more than 5,000 individual contributors giving an average of less than $100 a person.

Susan Adams, a Marin County supervisor, reported $158,909 in contributions through March 31.

Petaluma Vice Mayor Tiffany Renee said she "downsized" her campaign last fall and has raised $15,321.

Republican Dan Roberts, a Mill Valley securities broker, reported $177,792, including $160,000 in loans from himself.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.

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