In a sprawling state Senate district that stretches from Santa Monica to Oxnard and east to West Hollywood and parts of the San Fernando Valley, name recognition could make the difference between winning and losing.
By that measure, two Democrats with experience in the state Assembly, Lloyd Levine and Fran Pavley, appear to have a leg up on their opponents in Tuesday's primary for the chance to replace Democratic state Sen. Sheila Kuehl.
Throw in the fact that the 23rd Senate District leans heavily Democratic, and you have the makings of a two-person race.
Like so many other California legislative races, the election is essentially settled in the primary because the districts are drawn to favor one party over another.
Also running are Republicans Leonard M. Lanzi, a nonprofit administrator from Calabasas, and Rick Montaini, a technology security analyst from Calabasas; and Libertarian Colin Goldman, a screenwriter from Sherman Oaks.
Levine, 38, is an Assembly member representing another strongly Democratic seat in the San Fernando Valley.
But some analysts say Pavley, 59, has advantages over him: The Assembly district she represented before she was termed out two years ago lies almost entirely within the Senate district they are competing for, giving her valuable name recognition in a vast area.
"It's really kind of unique," said Tom Hogen-Esch, a political science professor at Cal State Northridge.
Besides name recognition, one of Pavley's strengths in the race, Hogen-Esch said, is her environmental policy record. She has championed state parks, hybrid cars and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
During her six years in the Assembly, Pavley said, she reached out to constituents by setting up mobile district offices at farmers markets and outside coffee shops to meet with them and listen to their views.
"I do think it comes from being a mayor in a small town like Agoura Hills, or maybe it's more from 28 years of teaching middle school," said Pavley, who was that town's mayor in the 1980s and is a retired teacher. "There's a lot of give and take."
She said some of the advice she got from Kuehl, who has endorsed her, was to focus on two or three key issues to be most effective in Sacramento instead of spreading herself too thin. Pavley said she took the advice to heart.
"I think that might have been a key to success," she said.
Pavley was chairwoman of the Assembly budget subcommittee on resources, which allowed her to play a role in stopping the development of Ahmanson Ranch near Calabasas and to help the state acquire property at Ormond Beach in Oxnard for wetlands preservation. She also served on the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, among others.
"These are not glamorous committees, but they're important," she said. "One of the problems in Sacramento is lobbyists and agency staffers often have more expertise than a lot of legislators. By having the same person in that chair, year after year, I was a consistent face in front of them and could say, 'Where is the report with the information you promised?' "
Pavley is perhaps best-known for legislation that made California the first state in the nation to require the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles. Similar bills were later adopted by several other states.
Pavley also wrote the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which requires a 25% cut in emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 and orders mandatory emissions caps on power plants, refineries and other heavy industry, as well as energy-efficiency measures and an emissions-trading program.
For his part, Levine said his six years in the Legislature have given him the breadth of experience that voters are looking for.
Levine said he is strong on environmental issues, noting that he successfully sponsored a bill in 2006 that requires grocery store chains to provide recycling containers for plastic grocery bags.
This year, he is working on legislation to promote energy efficiency and reduce global warming. He is chairman of the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee.
"I've got all the environmental credentials you would want," he said.
He co-wrote several bills allowing same-sex marriage, but they were vetoed by the governor. He chides Pavley for being insufficiently supportive of gay rights legislation.
"This is the most important civil rights fight of our time, yet you chose to sit on the sidelines," Levine said. "This is not just a constituency. It's a civil rights issue."
Pavley said she has always voted for gay rights legislation but chose to step aside when it came to co-writing such bills in favor of other lawmakers' desire to carry the bills.
During his first term in the Legislature, Levine helped pass legislation to secure $1 billion in funding for special- education programs. He has since used his influence to help ease traffic congestion in Southern California by fighting to improve the 405-101 freeway interchange, he said.
Before being elected to the Assembly, he was legislative director for former Assemblyman John Longville.
A fitness buff, Levine created a fitness competition for schools in 2004, and this year he ran in the Boston Marathon.
For more on Tuesday's election, go to latimes.com /june3primary.