Assemblyman Bill Berryhill of Ceres could get a free pass on his re-election effort despite the close call he had when he won office two years ago.
Turlock Democrat John Eisenhut isn't interested in making another run for Berryhill's 26th Assembly District, said his son, Steven.
Eisenhut came within 5,000 votes of defeating Republican Berryhill in 2008, and he's kept open a fund- raising account.
But Eisenhut didn't raise cash for it in the past six months, and Democrats are looking for candidates.
"I would like to go after Berryhill," said Michael Burtch, chairman of the Stanislaus County Democratic Central Committee.
"It's probably a late start, and whoever it is, they're going to have to hit the ground running right now," Burtch said.
The dynamic in the race could mimic Eisenhut's contest with Berryhill, in which the Democrat started slow but finished strong with a boost of cash from his party.
That's why Berryhill isn't taking the lull lightly.
"I'm paranoid working in a targeted seat," said Berryhill spokesman Evan Oneto. "I take nothing for granted until the filing period closes."
FRIVOLOUS IS IN THE EYES OF THE BEHOLDER ... Berryhill's older brother Tom's biggest challenge to winning a state Senate seat could come from a lawsuit his opponent filed last week seeking to strike his candidacy on the grounds that he hasn't lived in the 14th Senate District long enough.
Berryhill opponent Heidi Fuller of Columbia wants the secretary of state to enforce an article in the state constitution that requires candidates to reside in a district for at least a year before seeking office.
Berryhill's campaign called the lawsuit "frivolous," citing precedent from the U.S. Supreme Court and California secretary of state legal opinions.
Berryhill moved to Oakdale last month to run for the Senate seat that Dave Cogdill is vacating. As a sitting assemblyman, Berryhill has all the advantages of name recognition, campaign cash and party support to roll over Fuller in the June primary.
Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News, says Fuller could succeed with her case. Winger pointed to more recent court decisions that have upheld residency requirements for political candidates.
He said a decision that upholds the state constitution's residency requirements could be another lure for lawmakers to get behind a constitutional convention this year, a pitch that some leaders are endorsing to restructure government to avoid perennial budget stalemates.
"I know they've wanted to put (an initiative to strike the residency requirement) on the ballot for decades, but they're embarrassed and they think it might lose," he said.
Winger echoed Fuller's remarks that she was "disappointed with (Berryhill's) decision to completely ignore our constitution."
"I just don't like the hypocrisy of it," Winger said. Lawmakers "take an oath to uphold the constitution."
Stanislaus County GOP Chairman Jim DeMartini said the lawsuit and Fuller's charge that Berryhill is a "carpetbagger" might not resonate with voters who know his name and that he's lived in the area for decades.
"The voters will have to decide whether living outside the district by a mile is a reason to vote against him. I don't think it is," DeMartini said.
Bee Assistant City Editor Adam Ashton can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2366.