Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich has the lead in name recognition and fundraising -- with $1.4 million, he has more than twice as much money as his closest rivals, Deputy District Attorneys Alan Jackson and Jackie Lacey.
Still, Trutanich has had difficulty shaking off critics' portrayal of him as a liar and a bully, and political analysts believe he may end up in a runoff.
"The fact is that you've got several candidates of any seriousness - including three major ones -- which means it may be difficult to get to a majority," said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State L.A.
"Still, if anybody has a chance to get to a majority, it would be Trutanich because he has such an edge in fundraising and endorsements."
Robert Stern, former president of the Center for Governmental Studies, added, "Trutanich is probably the frontrunner, but the question remains: `Will he get 50 percent plus one, or will the other candidates get enough to stop him from winning outright?"'
If a candidate fails to secure the majority of votes, he or she would have to face off against the second-place finisher in November.
District Attorney Steve Cooley, who will retire in December after 12 years in office, believes a runoff is "inevitable."
"I just hope and pray that the office is placed in good hands by the voters," he added.
In November, President Obama and Mitt Romney's names will also be on the ballot and voter turnout is expected to be high. Both Sonenshein and Stern believe Trutanich's chances of getting elected will be diminished if the campaign drags on.
"Obviously, Trutanich would want to win off the bat, before his opponents can make a coherent and unified case against him, which would be easier for them to do in a one-on-one runoff," Sonenshein contended.
Stern agreed, saying, "Trutanich may have a tougher time in November, because people might consolidate around the other person, depending on who that person is."
The perceived frontrunner has appeared in only one forum with his rival candidates, citing "scheduling conflicts" for declining invitations to debate.
His campaign strategist, John Shallman, said with endorsements from Gov. Jerry Brown and Sheriff Lee Baca, Trutanich is best qualified to lead the D.A.'s Office as it adjusts to the realignment of the criminal justice system, when counties take on more responsibilities from the state for incarcerating inmates and supervising parolees.
"The most important thing that Carmen has talked about is that (the state's) 70 percent is recidivism rate is unacceptable," Shallman said.
"The fact of the matter is that we have to reform and Carmen is best equipped to work with the governor and the sheriff so that realignment is implemented in a way that gives these inmates and parolees an opportunity to be rehabilitated, while saving taxpayers money."
Lacey has Cooley's endorsement. He considers her "very well qualified to be D.A. based on her experience in the office, her temperament, her acquired skills, her judgment and her ability to collaborate with others in the criminal justice system."
Rivals, however, paint Lacey as being "soft", which she repudiates.
"I have been in this business for 26 years and I don't think that you successfully try 60 felony cases, obtain 11 murder convictions, and become Number 2 in the D.A.'s office being soft on crime," she said.
"I think what realignment calls for is someone to be wise, and I consider it an act of wisdom to differentiate between the truly dangerous criminal and those whose crimes we can address without spending a lot of money incarcerating them," she added.
Jackson, who heads the D.A.'s elite Major Crimes division, has several endorsements from law enforcement and has outstripped Lacey in fundraising.
His critics, however, contend the youngest candidate does not have enough management experience to run the largest local prosecutorial agency in the country.
Jackson counters, "The D.A.'s office should be in the hands of a true prosecutor -- not an administrator and certainly not a politician."
He added, "Over the last 10 years, the D.A.'s office has looked to me to lead the most elite trial teams in the most consequential and high-profile and difficult cases in the modern history of the office, and that takes true leadership."
The Los Angeles County Democratic Party and the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, meanwhile, have chosen Deputy D.A. Danette Meyers.
"I'm the most dynamic leader in the office," she said. "I'm not a technocrat and I have the backing of the most important group of individuals -- my peers -- which I think speaks volumes for what the public should do.
"I'm not beholden to Steve Cooley," she added. "I bring new policy, new reforms, which I don't anybody in the present administration is going to do."
Deputy D.A. Bobby Grace is the candidate who prosecuted one of the most prolific serial killers in Los Angeles history, Chester Turner.
"I've got the broadest experience among the candidates, working on cases involving gang violence, domestic violence, and the Major Crimes Division," Grace said.
"It's important to have the kind of D.A. who can bring that courtroom knowledge, in addition to a very forward-looking view of the criminal justice system."
Grace, Meyers and Lacey could make history if elected. No person of color, and no woman, has ever been elected D.A. in Los Angeles County.
Deputy D.A. John Breault III joined the race late and never created a campaign website -- "Mine is a grassroots campaign, basically word of mouth," he said. But he has been attending the debates.
"If elected, I would give much more discretion to my line deputies and stop micro-managing from the top-down," Breault said. "I would give deputies guidelines that I expect them to live with and then monitor them, but let them do their job."
With realignment and the ongoing state budget crisis, Sonenshein said voters should be thoughtful in choosing a D.A.
"Voters underestimate how significant the D.A. is," he said. "It's a position with a lot of power -- he can convene a grand jury, decide whom to prosecute, what crimes to focus on.
"This is a very powerful position and voters need to closely examine the candidates' qualifications."
Los Angeles County District Attorney candidates
John Breault III, 69, resident of Venice
Bobby Grace, 51, resident of Ladera Heights, http://bobbygrace4da.com/
Alan Jackson, 46, resident of Pasadena, http://www.votealanjackson.com/
Jackie Lacey, 55, resident of Granada Hills, http://jackielacey.com/
Danette Meyers, 54, resident of Los Angeles, http://www.danetteforda.com/
Carmen Trutanich, 60, resident of Harbor City, http://www.carmentrutanich.com/