Change in a Crowded Field

Anthony Woods is a gay African-American Iraq veteran running for a California congressional seat against eight other candidates, but adversity has never stopped him before.

BY Kerry Eleveld

June 09 2009 11:00 PM ET

Anthony Woods may be running for California's 10th congressional seat amid at least eight other candidates, but that's the way he likes it.

"I'm running against the field, and I think it's the best way to approach it," Woods says, noting that the three best-known candidates -- all fellow Democrats -- bear the ignominious distinction of working in the state's capitol. "Right now, Californians give the leadership of Sacramento a 14% approval rating -- I think that clearly helps me."

Woods, an Iraq veteran who was discharged under the military's gay ban just last December, hopes to fill the seat being vacated by the current sponsor of the "don't ask, don't tell" repeal bill, Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, who has been tapped by President Obama for a position at the State Department.

Accomplishing his goal would make him the first openly gay African-American member of Congress. But the path is far from certain in this race, which features no incumbent, an unusually crowded field (including six Democrats, a Republican, a Green Party candidate, and one "decline to state"), and an open primary that pits all candidates against each other regardless of party affiliation. If no single candidate wins the primary vote with more than 50%, a runoff ensues, with the top candidates from each party squaring off against each other.

"You could be looking at 10 or more candidates," says Todd Stenhouse, senior adviser to Woods, referring to the primary. "But the reality is that it's an overwhelmingly Democratic district, so the conventional wisdom is, that's where the race will be determined."

Woods is the only candidate thus far who was born in the district, and as personal stories go, his is plenty compelling. The 28-year-old was raised in Fairfield by his single mother, a small-business owner who cleans houses for a living. He earned a congressional appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and, upon graduating, served two tours of duty in Iraq. He then returned to school to get his master's degree from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and was selected to be a professor of economics at his alma mater, West Point, in 2011.

Tags: Politics

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