The secretary of state's race got a whole lot more interesting this week.

On Wednesday, The Oregonian's Jeff Mapes reported that Robert Wolfe, the chief petitioner of one of two marijuana legalization measures circulating this year, will run for secretary of state on the Progressive party ticket.

Earlier this year, incumbent Secretary of State Kate Brown, a Democrat, notified Wolfe that she intended to fine him a record $65,000 for signature gathering violations related to his marijuana measure. Wolfe disagreed with the fine and his candidacy is one reflection of how unhappy he is about it.

The man who has cause for celebration, however, is Brown's principal opponent, Dr. Knute Buehler, a Republican from Bend. Buehler, a Rhodes Scholar-turned orthopedic surgeon is a strong fundraiser—he has $395,000 on hand currently, compared to Brown's $275,000. But until Wolfe's announcement, there was little reason to believe he could end Democrats' stranglehold on all statewide elected offices.

Wolfe could be a spoiler. There are a couple of reasons why:

First, with the two marijuana measures collecting signatures for much of this year, hundreds of thousands of voters have had some exposure to Wolfe's issue, and the media have covered marijuana extensively. In the May primary attorney general campaign, Democrat and retired Judge Ellen Rosenblum (who is married to WW publisher Richard Meeker) rode support from marijuana interests to victory, proving that the voters are attuned to the issue. Although Wolfe's measure did not make the ballot, another legalization measure, backed by veteran pot activist Paul Stanford did. That initiative, Measure 80, will cause more marijuana supporters to vote.

Second, the results of the 2008 election suggest Brown is vulnerable. Although she'd then represented Portland in the Legislature for 17 years, rising as high as Senate majority leader, Brown beat her GOP opponent, former Eugene television reporter Rick Dancer, a political neophyte by only five percentage points, 51 percent to 46 percent. In that race, Seth Woolley, the Pacific Green Party candidate, got 3 percent of the vote. So if Wolfe makes some noise, activates email lists and galvanizes the marijuana vote, it's not hard to imagine that he can pull a significant chunk of votes, most of which would seem to come from people who'd otherwise support Brown. (Woolley will also be on the ballot again, as will Libertarian Bruce Knight.)

Jim Moore, a professor of political science at Pacific University, agrees that Wolfe presents an opportunity for Buehler. "It could happen," Moore says of a scenario in which Wolfe plays a spoiler role. "Especially if voters are still feeling the recession and are in a 'throw the bums out' mood toward incumbents."