The election for Stanislaus County sheriff is more than 10 months away, yet the two men who have announced their candidacy will participate in a debate tonight in front of the deputies' union and other department employees.
The Stanislaus County Deputy Sheriff's Association has invited Sheriff Adam Christianson and Turlock police Capt. Rob Jackson to answer questions about issues that affect the union, which represents about 220 deputies who work in the jail facilities.
The debate will be held at Brenden Theatres in downtown Modesto and is not open to the public. The event was organized for the union members, said Jeff Graham, secretary for the deputies' association.
He said the union wanted to provide an event where its members can hear from the candidates directly. The union members later will vote for who will get the association's endorsement. Graham said he didn't know when that would be.
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"From a candidate's point of view, it's always good to endorse early," Graham said. "It doesn't do the candidate any good to receive the endorsement late in the campaign."
While Jackson and Christianson have made their intentions clear, it's more than six months before they can officially file to run with the Stanislaus County election office. The filing period for the June 8 election is Feb. 16 to March 12.
Graham acknowledged that there's always the possibility other candidates could decide to run for sheriff, but he said Christianson and Jackson "are probably the two biggest competitors for the job."
Larry Giventer, a political science professor at California State University, Stanislaus, said the debate between the two candidates could dissuade a third candidate from running.
Endorsing a candidate so early will lock the union to that candidate months before the names are placed on the ballot, Giventer said.
He said local government elections are following a national trend in which campaigns start as soon as the previous election ends.
Gaining an early endorsement can help the candidate get a head start on raising money and further the momentum to gain other endorsements and contributions.
"The most important money is the early money," Giventer said. "With that, they can do a lot. If they get the money too late in the campaign, they won't have time to spend it."
Jackson and Christianson said they look forward to tonight's debate because gaining the union's endorsement and speaking about their approach to the job is important to their campaigns.
The two also said they hope their campaign will not produce a divisive atmosphere within the department, as did the previous election for sheriff in June 2006 between Christianson, then a sheriff's lieutenant, and then-Assistant Sheriff Mark Puthuff.
Jackson is also a former lieutenant who worked in the Sheriff's Department from 1988 until joining Turlock police in November 2007.
"I'm not the person to sling mud," Jackson said. "I don't hold any ill will toward Adam. I think there are still some wounds from the last election."
Christianson said he took the high road in the previous election, and he will do so again.
"I will not directly ask any (sheriff's) employee to choose sides or support me," Christianson said. "I won't create an environment where I demand or expect support for me."
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2394.