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What Sandra Fluke’s decision not to run for Congress means

Women's rights activist Sandra Fluke will not run for Congress after all. That's good news for Wendy Greuel.

A former candidate for mayor of Los Angeles, Greuel quickly launched her campaign for Congress after Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) announced his retirement last week. When she ran for mayor last year, Greuel boasted deep support from women's groups.

But Fluke would no doubt have competed for many of the same activists and groups that lined up squarely behind Greuel in the mayor's race. Fluke burst onto the national radar when she advocated for contraception coverage under the health-care law. That led conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh to call her a "slut" in 2012. He later apologized.

Fluke's national profile would have made her an intriguing candidate for a number of prominent women's groups, potentially putting them in a tough spot: Who to back? An established candidate with deep ties to the community of women's organizations (Greuel) or a rising star with celebrity status and the potential to draw widespread attention to issues and potentially raise lots of money (Fluke)?

That dilemma will forever rest in the realm of the hypothetical, with Fluke now out of the picture. She announced Wednesday that she would run for the state Senate instead.

"While I strongly considered offering my candidacy for Congress, I feel there is better way for me to advance the causes that are important to our community," she said in a statement.

Fluke didn't mention Greuel or politics in her statement. But from where she stood, she must have surely seen the potential for heated competition with Greuel for many of the same voters and backers. A former Los Angeles city controller, Greuel was backed by Emily's List and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in her run for mayor. As a congressional candidate, she has already secured the support of Kathy Spillar, executive vice president of Feminist Majority. Emily's List has not picked a candidate yet in the race for Waxman's seat.

In her announcement Wednesday, Fluke touted praise from prominent women including Christine Pelosi and Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.). She's vying for the seat held by Democrat Ted Lieu, who is also running for Waxman's seat. Lieu and Greuel are viewed as early frontrunners in the heavily Democratic district, and Greuel has the support of former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Gruel is not the only woman running for Waxman's seat. Attorney Barbara Mulvaney (D) is in the race. So is author Marianne Williamson (I). Still, Fluke's decision appears to be a bigger boon to Greuel's chances.

"Fluke not running does probably help Wendy, though," said veteran California Democratic strategist Garry South.

Among the other possibilities being mentioned is Secretary of State Debra Bowen. What's more, California's top-two primary system could be incentive for a crowded pack of contenders to enter the mix. All the candidates run in the same primary regardless of party affiliation, and then the top two vote-getters advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation. The format can split the vote up among many candidates, which means a candidate can make it to the general election with a relatively low percentage of votes. That encourages long-shot candidates to take a chance.

In short, Greuel may yet get some serious competition for the support of women's groups and activists.

But there's no doubt that she can breath a bit easier Wednesday knowing that she won't have to compete against Fluke.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.

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