The San Diego mayor's race is out of the gate a year ahead of the primary election, foretelling a political marathon of potentially epic proportions.
On Monday, a third contender -- fresh from a dash in Sunday's Rock 'n' Roll Marathon -- gathered supporters and met with the media for an official campaign kickoff.
Political analysts are predicting a large, wide-open field from which the two top finishers next June may go into the November runoff with pluralities of under 20 percent.
Entering the race at the age of 34, Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, (R-75th District), has gained prominence that his rivals would be hard-pressed to discount.
"I guarantee you I don't have answers to every problem we face," he told a throng of more than 150 supporters while announcing his candidacy at the headquarters of NuVasive, a Sorrento Mesa-based biomedical firm.
"But I will listen, tackle issues directly with you to not just confront the problems of today," Fletcher said, "but offer innovative plans and a bold vision for the future."
Fletcher, a decorated Marine combat veteran of the Iraq War, significantly raised his legislative profile by championing "Chelsea's Law" in the wake of a sexual predator's rape and murder of two local teenage girls.
He's cultivated major contacts in Sacramento, has received career advice from former Governor, U.S. Senator and San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson, and has hired Mayor Jerry Sanders' politicial strategist, Tom Shepard, to direct his campaign.
Fletcher's wife Mindy, a former communications aide to Texas Governor and then-President George W. Bush, is highly regarded as a political strategist in her own right.
Fletcher's campaign emphasizes economic development, innovation, and coalition-building.
When it comes to political disagreements, Fletcher said in a post-announcement interview, he makes sure not to bear grudges or draw lines in the sand.
"We just view it differently; you're not a bad person," he explained. "And I'm not going to treat you in a way that permanently severs our ability to work together -- because I may need you on my coalition tomorrow."
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and City Councilman Carl DeMaio are officially in the race, and several other well-known contenders are expected, along with a number of wannabe's who are nowhere near 'household names.'
Without mentioning DeMaio by name in his speech, which was attended by the presidents of the city's police and firefighter unions, Fletcher took an apparent swipe at DeMaio's sometimes harsh rhetoric about public employee salaries and benefits.
"You don't build a better city by tearing down those you need to implement a better future," Fletcher said. "Consider that a message to city workers, who are taking too much blame for problems created by politicians.
"The last decade has been rough on everyone, but the era of self-righteous scapegoating needs to end."
Political observers say Fletcher, while relatively new to city issues and institutions, shapes up as a force to be reckoned with in Election 2012.
"He has a lot of support from some of the folks who have been around here for awhile," says Liam Dillon, city hall beat reporter for Voice of San Diego.org. "So even though he might not be the most experienced politician in San Diego, people he's surrounding himself with certainly are."
While Fletcher also is expected to be a serious campaign fundraiser, he and his opponents are facing a community of wary donors at a time of discouraging economic indicators.
"I know some big-time heavyweights in this town who are keeping a close lid on their checkbooks right now," says political consultant John Dadian.
"You need to have the resources to get the message out. That's going to be the tough part for all the candidates, because they're going to be splitting up a lot of the same financial pie."