LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Thirty-four candidates want to be California’s next U.S. senator.

Beyond the leading Democrats, it’s a mostly unfamiliar and untested group that opens the way for possible surprises and could boost the chances of Rep. Loretta Sanchez in June’s primary election.

The Orange County congresswoman is vying to get into a November showdown with fellow Democrat Kamala Harris, the state attorney general who’s been leading in polls and fundraising.

Under California’s unusual election rules, only the top two vote-getters in the June 7 primary advance to the November election. With 12 little-known Republicans on the ballot, a fractured GOP vote would make it easier for two Democrats to claim the top spots.

The Republican vote “will be spread all over the place” in a large field, if no strong candidate emerges, Republican consultant Mike Madrid said.

The list of candidates for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer also includes five other Democrats and 15 candidates from minor political parties or those who listed no political affiliation.

They will appear on a single ballot, and voters can choose any candidate, regardless of party.

In a year when the presidential contest has dominated headlines, California’s Senate race has been largely overlooked and many voters remain undecided.

The leading Republicans, Duf Sundheim and Tom Del Beccaro, have been polling in single digits and have struggled to raise money. Ron Unz, a theoretical-physicist-turned-software-developer who entered the race last month, said in an email that he had donated $50,000 to his campaign.

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