Garcia: Senate showdown 

The race is almost 15 months away, and it’s generally off the radar screen for most people who aren’t addicted to watching the grains of sand inside the hourglass of California politics.

But if the early signs are any indication, the 2008 primary campaign for the 3rd District Senate seat between incumbent Carole Migden and San Francisco Assemblyman Mark Leno is going to be one rough-and-tumble affair.

How nasty will it be? Unless I’m missing something, I’d describe it as a hide-the-kids-and-stay-indoors sort of race, with no enemy left unscathed, a kind of neutron bomb contest. I could be wrong, and at least one of the candidates has promised to be civil and inclusive, but what a start.

A few weeks back, Leno, the former San Francisco supervisor who is being termed out of his Assembly seat next year, announced that he would take on Migden, the former San Francisco supervisor, even though she has one more term remaining. A lot of people had been wondering what Leno would do, thinking that he might just stay put because our friends in the state Capitol are considering a measure to end term limits this year.

But the answer turned out to be no, and for friends of Migden, that is considered a no-no. And some people are upset. And Leno doesn’t really care because, as he told me in a most reasonable fashion this week: "Democracy is best served when voters have a choice.’’

Some might find that self-serving, particularly Migden supporters, but now we can understand why Leno thinks he has a chance to beat a well-known incumbent, even one as fire-and-brimstone as Migden.

Yesterday, Leno’s campaign consultant John Whitehurst released the results of a recent poll of 600 respondents that found Leno with far more support in San Francisco than Migden. The survey, done by David Binder, found Leno leading Migden by more than 2 to 1 in San Francisco, though Migden was slightly ahead among voters in Marin and Sonoma counties, where nearly half of the voters in the district reside.

According to the poll, Leno has a higher approval rating in his district than Migden, and as respondents were asked more questions and received more biographical data about the two candidates, Leno’s stock rose while Migden’s flattened. As the poll progressed, Binder said in a memo, Leno took votes away from Migden in all three counties and wound up considerably ahead of Migden in a head-to-head race.

Now, any poll taken in a vacuum without an active campaign is going to be tenuous, and one thing that jumps out in the survey is the huge percentage of undecided voters in Marin and Sonoma counties — about 40 percent — two counties which Leno has never campaigned in or represented.

But it’s also clear that in San Francisco, Leno enjoys considerable popularity, and that his easygoing style is in contrast to the more caustic Migden, who is as well-known for her brashness and smarts.

And just to give you a hint of what awaits, within about 48 hours after Leno had his campaign kickoff announcement, a blogger named Michael Colbruno posted on his Web site a searing hit piece titled "Kiddie Porn King in Senate Race.’’ The article goes on to describe Leno as a friend of child pornographers based on his opposition to a version of a Republican bill fashioned on "Jessica’s Law’’ that passed last year, imposing tougher restrictions on known molesters.

Colbruno is a former Migden staffer and the reaction in the blog world has been quick — as smear tactics go, this one is pure Karl Rove — and the race has hardly begun. At this rate, by next year, Leno might have to campaign in a fire-retardant suit. (Calls to Migden and her campaign were not returned.)

Already, members of The City’s gay political clubs are up in arms over which LGBT candidate to support, and the various camps on the Board of Supervisors and elsewhere are jockeying for position. Board President Aaron Peskin, a Migden supporter, was quoted in a Capitol journal as saying he would jump in the race, if needed, to block Leno from winning.

He won’t. Peskin holds little appeal outside his small supervisorial district, but you get the picture. For a lot of politicians, this means war, and they’re already leaning mattresses against the windows.

"These seats belong to the voters,’’ Leno told me. "No one should presume to get another four-year term.’’

Somebody tell that to the politicians.

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