The greatest overachiever in American politics inspired this muddle in Northern New Mexico.

So many candidates are entering the race for Congress in the state’s 3rd District that they’re deadening public interest.

Who’s running changes in a flash. But for the moment, 10 Democrats and one luckless Republican are in.

Most people are too busy paying the bills and raising kids to spend time sorting out the nags from the thoroughbreds in this horse race. Their natural instinct is to ignore the candidates until attrition thins the field to something comprehensible.

As for the candidates, they figure victory is possible if things break just right.

That’s what happened for Jimmy Carter in a much bigger arena.

Carter finished third in the Democratic primary for governor of Georgia in 1966. Voters elected him president 10 years later.

This is why I rate Carter as the all-time overachiever. He went from Nowheresville to the White House, and he did it in a time when there were no empty-headed reality television shows to help a candidate become a celebrity.

Based on what Carter achieved, countless long shots figure all is possible.

A governor of Georgia could not succeed himself in Carter’s era. This gave him another chance at the job in 1970. He defeated former Gov. Carl Sanders in a bitter primary. Carter swept the general election with ease. The Deep South was bright blue then.

After less than two years as governor, Carter began preparing to run for president. Few outside his home state knew his name, but this wasn’t the obstacle it might seem.

Republican President Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal created an opening for a Democrat who could present himself as an outsider. Carter fit the profile.

He outworked his competition in the Iowa caucuses to capture public attention. Carter then defeated a better-known Southern governor, Alabama’s George Wallace, in pivotal primaries. An assassin had paralyzed Wallace, leaving him to campaign in a wheelchair.

Carter, holding a 30-point lead in summertime polls, barely held on to oust the unelected incumbent president, Gerald Ford.

Carter, a one-term governor, became a one-term president. But he climbed the highest mountain. Because of him, every candidate can tell himself or herself that long odds don’t matter.

This is happening now with the open seat in New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District. It’s why there seems to be an unlimited supply of candidates.

The general election is still more than 14 months away. The winner of this seat, though, will be decided in the Democratic primary election in June.

Since the 3rd District’s formation 37 years ago, voters have never sent a woman to Congress. But two women start as the favorites in the crowded Democratic field.

Valerie Plame, a former CIA agent, probably has the highest name recognition throughout the district, which covers the upper half of the state. She will bag plenty of contributions.

Plame became prominent in 2003 after members of then-President George W. Bush’s administration revealed her covert status and columnist Robert Novak ran with it.

Voters who haven’t followed one paragraph of coverage about the 3rd District know Plame’s name thanks to mean-spirited Republican operatives.

Endorsements seldom change minds in two- or three-way races. They matter more in a free-for-all like this one.

The liberal political action committee Emily’s List has endorsed attorney Teresa Leger Fernandez. This might bring her steady donations and volunteers.

I typically would favor old-fashioned debates between the candidates starting after Labor Day. But if the packed presidential field has demonstrated anything, it’s that what the Democratic Party calls debates are nothing more than jabber sessions with packaged sound bites.

Nobody would learn anything new about these 10 congressional candidates by jamming them onto one stage. Debates won’t be meaningful until the field shrinks to four or five candidates.

Even then, there is no assurance the cream will rise. Somebody could win the primary with 25 or 30 percent of the vote.

That takes us to the hard truth: The winner of this scrum might not be the best or the brightest.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.