Fledgling Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan's interest in Rep. Ellen Tauscher's soon-to-be-vacated congressional seat is generating Democratic angst.

Some in the party fear Buchanan's departure could open the door to a Republican replacement and erode the party's push to secure enough reliable votes to reach the legislative two-thirds voting requirement for budgets and taxes.

Democrats spent roughly $3 million on Buchanan's hard-fought Assembly District 15 race last November and, in the process, seized the last Republican-held partisan seat in the Bay Area.

"There would be a lot of broken hearts in Sacramento if she left," one Democratic insider said. "It will leave a bitter taste because it is a vulnerable seat that could go back to the Republicans in a special election."

In Buchanan's defense, she had nothing to do with the timing of Tauscher's decision to take an undersecretary's job with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

And it seems unfair to sacrifice to party strategy what might be Buchanan's only realistic chance to run for Congress.

"These seats are precious," said Buchanan's campaign manager Mary Hughes. "Serving in Congress is a privilege. There are no term limits. They don't come open often. As a consequence, they are earned."

Buchanan's possible candidacy raises another question: Is this a woman's seat?

Granted, California congresswomen are ubiquitous — particularly in the Bay Area — but the fairer sex comprises only 17 percent of the full House of Representatives.


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Women's rights advocates, on the other hand, say this district has been represented by a capable woman for more than a decade and voters deserve the chance to vote for another qualified woman.

Therein lies Buchanan's chief dilemma: Tauscher, the one woman who could best make the case for the election of a woman, has endorsed state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord.

TIMING. How did DeSaulnier so quickly secure Tauscher's blessing?

Make no mistake, DeSaulnier was the clear front-runner from the start.

DeSaulnier discussed his candidacy during dozens of phone calls with Tauscher and his other close congressional friend, Rep. George Miller, of Martinez, in the days following the release of news of her new job.

Despite her enthusiasm for DeSaulnier, sources say Tauscher had hoped to postpone an endorsement until a date far closer to her departure.

Tauscher and her staff have repeatedly reminded people that she will remain hard at work in the district in the weeks or months until the U.S. Senate confirmation vote.

But the buzz over a Buchanan candidacy generated rampant speculation over who — or even if — Tauscher would endorse. It became a serious distraction and she decided to go public with her choice.

A CHARMED LIFE? This all fits DeSaulnier's amazing political trajectory.

Here is a guy who started his Democratic career as a Republican.

He was a Concord councilman in 1994 when he secured an appointment from former GOP Gov. Pete Wilson to the Contra Costa board of supervisors.

DeSaulnier later experienced a political epiphany and became a Democrat.

He would trade his County Supervisor title 12 years later for that of Assemblyman after he survived a modest 2006 primary challenge.

Within months of winning his Assembly post, DeSaulnier became the leading state senate candidate when his friend and then-state Sen. Tom Torlakson prepared to term out.

DeSaulnier waltzed virtually unopposed into the Senate in November. His only serious Democratic primary challenger dropped out early after DeSaulnier deftly locked in nearly every key Democratic endorsement and dollar.

And last week, a mere five months after DeSaulnier picked up the keys to his new Senate office, a rare opening to a congressional seat lands in his lap.

And he once again emerges within days as the front-runner and in possession of top endorsements.

Some people wait for years and still die before they have this kind of luck.

If DeSaulnier wins the congressional race, can we call him the "accidental congressman?"

GOT POLITICS? Read Inside Politics for the latest happenings at www.ibabuzz.com/politics.

AND FINALLY. Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the Danville pilot who saved the lives of every single one of his 155 passengers and crew through a deft landing of a jetliner on the Hudson River, says he is honored that folks keep asking him to run for Congress.

Alas, Sully is not interested. He will continue to decline requests that he "throw his pilot's hat into the ring," the family spokesman said.

What a race that would have been.

But this is probably a smart move on his part.

As a pilot, Sully is a hero.

Given voters' dim view of Congress these days, public office would be a big demotion.

Reach Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773, lvorderbrueggen@bayareanewsgroup.com or www.ibabuzz.com/politics/.