In Tuesday's special election to replace the late Rep. Tom Lantos, four of the five candidates have a single goal: stop Jackie Speier.
In the unusual open primary, all the candidates for the Peninsula/San Francisco congressional seat will appear on the same ballot and voters can pick anyone, regardless of party.
If someone gets more than half the votes, he or she jets off to Washington on Wednesday to finish the final nine months of Democrat Lantos' term. If no one collects a majority, the top candidates in each party face off again in a June 3 runoff.
Speier, who has represented much of the congressional district as a San Mateo County supervisor, assemblywoman and state senator, is the odds-on favorite to finish on top Tuesday. But her opponents are scrambling to keep her under 50 percent and extend the campaign another eight weeks.
"I'm running against inertia," Speier, 57, said Sunday at a community pancake breakfast in South San Francisco. "If at least 57 percent of those voting Tuesday aren't Democrats, we may have to do this all over again in June, which means the district will go longer without representation."
That's no problem for her opponents.
"It's just fine if the people in the district are not represented for another two months," said Barry Hermanson, the Green Party candidate. "It's more important to have this debate continue."
Speier's opponents know it's a longshot to think they can beat the veteran Democrat, who's far better known, much better financed and running in an overwhelmingly Democratic district.
Local Republican leaders "asked me to take a bullet for the party," said 75-year-old Greg Conlon, an Atherton accountant who lost the state treasurer's race to Democrat Phil Angelides in 2002. "But I think I could steal it with a low (voter) turnout next Tuesday."
Beating Speier is about the only thing many of the candidates agree on.
Michael Moloney, for example, is anything but a typical Republican. The retired businessman ran unsuccessfully against Lantos as a Libertarian in 1998 and as a Republican in 2002 and has far harsher words for President Bush than even the Democratic candidates.
Bush is an international terrorist, far worse than Osama bin Laden, Moloney said in an interview last week. A longtime peace activist, he wants the country to immediately pull its military forces from Iraq, and he believes Congress should impeach Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
"I'm running because I want to save the country," said Moloney, 67, of Foster City. "If someone doesn't stop Bush and Cheney, they'll bomb Iran back into the Stone Age and start World War III."
Conlon joined the race because local GOP leaders "wanted a respectable candidate to run against Jackie Speier," he said. While he's no fan of the Iraq war, he wants "to leave with honor, not haste."
Leaving Iraq too quickly could open the way for Iran to take control of its neighbor and send the price of gasoline soaring, Conlon added.
"There are economic consequences for leaving Iraq too soon," he said. "Six-dollar-a gallon gasoline would change our economic picture and send unemployment soaring."
Hermanson's single issue is the growing economic problem caused by the military budget, including the cost of the war in Iraq.
"My goal in this campaign is to draw attention to the obscene amounts of money we're spending on the military," the 57-year-old San Francisco resident said. "I want (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi held accountable for the direction she's taking this country. It's bankrupting the country, morally and financially."
Even if Speier ultimately goes to Congress, the campaign could have an effect on her, Hermanson said. "I'm asking Jackie Speier to do a very difficult thing: to speak out against the leadership of her own party."
Michelle McMurry, 38, is the lone Democrat challenging Speier. A physician and health policy director, her only political experience is a stint as an adviser to Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, a conservative Democrat turned independent.
A former fellow at the Council for Foreign Relations, the San Francisco resident touts her lack of political background as a plus, arguing that she will bring a new perspective to Congress.
On Sunday, Speier promised backers she would go to Washington and work to stop the war in Iraq and fight for the same consumer protection measures she pushed in Sacramento.
"After 44 neighborhood meetings, I feel I know what's on your minds," she said. "But we have to get everyone out to vote."
Whatever happens Tuesday, this is just round one of the fight for Lantos' seat. Even if the special election goes to a runoff, the same candidates still will be on that same June 3 ballot in the separate party primaries for the full, two-year congressional term that will be decided in November.