Two-term state Rep. Jefferson Smith (D-East Portland), and recently elected assistant caucus leader, is talking to people about joining the field of those lining up to challenge Adams.

Smith, 38, a Harvard Law graduate and a founder of the Oregon Bus Project, would be the youngest credible candidate in the field by a decade (19-year-old community college student Max Brumm does not meet that standard). Smith's years running the Bus Project, which encourages young voters to get involved in the political process, provides him an extensive network. And Smith's legislative seat is safe and so he has considerable time to ponder his future before the March 15, 2012 filing deadline.

Smith says he greatly enjoys serving his district in Salem and is excited about the policy challenges he and his colleagues plan to tackle next year but also acknowledges he's contemplating whether he could help Portland achieve its potential by shifting his focus to City Hall.

"This ought to be the most inspiring city in the world," Smith says. "I haven't rule anything out but I know I need to decide soon what I'm going to do."

Others say he'd bring a lot to the race.

"Jefferson would be a formidable and really fine candidate," says his legislative colleague, Rep. Ben Cannon (D-Portland). "I have no idea whether he's running or not." 

In 2008, public employee unions helped Adams win. Although Adams is widely expected to announce he'll seek re-election, key backers such as real estate developer John Russell have deserted him and union funders will want to be sure he's viable before renewing their support.

They currently have two alternatives to the incumbent: former City Commissioner Charlie Hales, whose candidacy has been damaged by his puzzling responses to questions about whether he avoided Oregon taxes by claiming to live in Washington from 2004 to 2009.

The other challenger, former businesswoman and non-profit executive Eileen Brady, is raising money steadily but remains a largely unknown quantity. And while Brady is off to a good start, News Seasons Markets, of which she is a co-founder and share-holder, is a non-union shop. That will make her a tough sell for endorsements from AFSCME and SEIU

Depending on how weak Adams' poll numbers are, that dynamic could open the door for Smith or other candidates to enter the race.