It's nearly dusk and Amanda Fritz is leading me into a small Southwest Portland forest, down a muddy, slick path. She can't help grinning as we stop to survey the scene. "I love this place," she sighs, pointing out the headwaters of Arnold Creek.

The Loll Wildwood in SW Portland, not far from Fritz's home, is not only strikingly lush and beautiful, but it represents her first major political victory. In 1991, she and neighbors realized the 20-acre site was at risk of development. After a successful neighborhood campaign, Metro bought the property in 1995 to protect wildlife and water quality.

Now, Fritz is less than two weeks away from what will likely be her biggest political victory: After 17 years of community and city involvement, she's poised to be the first publicly financed non-incumbent to win a seat on the city council.

This, of course, is my prediction. Fritz scored 43 percent of the vote in the May primary, and her general election challenger, Charles Lewis, walked away with 13 percent. From all accounts—including my own—Fritz has continued to out-campaign Lewis since May. She's also racked up every major endorsement, from Mayor-elect Sam Adams, to every city newspaper (save the Portland Tribune, which endorsed Lewis in the primary, but has yet to pick a candidate for the general).

Fritz, however, points out that this election is less predictable. In a traditionally financed race, she would have been flooded with campaign contributions after commanding such a strong primary lead. People like to line up behind the leader.

Had that been the case, she would have been able to outspend her opponent, getting her message out as November 4 approaches and the electorate really starts paying attention. But that's not the case. Fritz and Lewis both have exactly $200,000 to spend—an amount that doesn't go far when purchasing mailers or TV time. Public financing was largely intended to level the political playing field. This is the first race where we'll be able to see how level that field will be. (Fortunately, Fritz's mantra-like message of wise city spending and equitable services in every neighborhood is easy to convey with limited funds.)

So Fritz is, as they say, cautiously optimistic. A Post-It stuck on her dashboard last Monday, October 20, outlines a full day of campaigning, ending with a SW Portland candidate forum. The optimistic side of her, however, has an eye on January: Tucked into her crammed campaign calendar are meetings with economic development and education experts, business owners, and high school students. She's not meeting with them to score a vote. She's consulting with her future constituents.