BOSTON (AP) — Many Bostonians have never voted in a city election that didn’t include Thomas Menino on the ballot, and some aren’t old enough to remember a city without him at the helm.

So with the larger-than-life mayor retiring after two decades, it hardly seems surprising that none of the dozen candidates vying to succeed Menino have yet seemed able to separate themselves from the crowd.

Tuesday’s preliminary election, which will whittle the field of 12 down to two for the Nov. 5 final, has become a frantic neighborhood-by-neighborhood, street-by-street and even house-by-house scramble for votes. Conventional wisdom dictates that a candidate will need about 20,000 votes — less than 20 percent of the total amount of votes expected to be cast — to earn one of the top two spots.

“I really think it’s a jump ball,” said Lawrence DiCara, a Boston attorney and former City Council president. In such a crowded and fragmented field, DiCara said, candidates are playing less to a citywide audience and focusing more on identifying their niche supporters and making sure those people go the polls.

Menino, who took office in 1993 and is the city’s longest-serving mayor, decided not to seek an unprecedented sixth term after battling a series of health problems. He hasn’t endorsed any of his would-be successors, and his vaunted political machine should be largely idle Tuesday. Many of the city’s business leaders and other movers and shakers are also waiting on the sidelines to see who emerges from the pack.

The hopefuls include Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley; City Councilors Rob Consalvo, Michael Ross, John Connolly, Felix Arroyo and Charles Yancey; former school committee member John Barros; state Rep. Martin Walsh; former city housing chief Charlotte Golar Richie; radio station owner Charles Clemons; community organizer Bill Walczak; and former schoolteacher David Wyatt.

It’s a field that reflects an increasingly diverse city. Richie is seeking to become the city’s first female and first black mayor. The other African-American candidates are Barros, Yancey, Clemons and Wyatt. Arroyo, if elected, would be the first mayor of Latino background.

DiCara said Boston was a “dramatically different city” than it was when he ran for mayor in 1983, the last mayoral election in Boston without an incumbent on the ballot, making it more likely a woman or minority candidate could prevail.

“I think to some extent we are reinventing ourselves politically,” he said

Supporters of minority candidates need only point to Linda Dorcena Forry, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, who won a special election in June for a state Senate seat long held by white, Irish-American men from South Boston.

In terms of fundraising, Walsh was leading the pack financially with $1.4 million raised through Sept. 15. Conley and Connolly also had both topped the $1 million mark in both fundraising and campaign spending through midmonth.

Connolly was the only candidate who declared prior to Menino’s announced departure and has focused his campaign on improving schools. Several recent polls have placed him at the top of the pack but by percentages within the polls’ margins of error.

Few observers believe fundraising prowess or TV ads alone will dictate success.

“Anybody who says 100 percent they know what is going to happen Tuesday is a liar,” said Erin O’Brien, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. O’Brien, who previously advised Walsh on policy but is not currently a member of his campaign team, believes the preliminary election will largely hinge on the effectiveness of the candidates’ get-out-the-vote efforts.

Former Mayor Raymond Flynn used a grassroots approach in the neighborhoods to emerge as the winner in the crowded 1983 race. But Flynn, who served 10 years as mayor before resigning to become U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, worries that many of today’s voters feel less connected to their neighborhoods.

“It’s about civic pride,” he said, when asked his advice for the candidates in the finals days of the campaign. “I’d appeal to the civic pride of people. This is your city, this is your home, take pride in it.”

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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