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Supervisor race is close as candidates head to wire

One candidate is a longtime civil servant who promises he can help fix government because of his intimate knowledge of where the gears grind.

His opponent pledges innovative leadership shaped by experience outside the walls of government.

Both promise they'll bring change, not to the nation, but to Merced County.

The themes and even self-portrayals of this year's presidential election have begun seeping into the campaigns of District 2 Supervisor candidates Hub Walsh and Jim Sanders.

Walsh is Madera County's director of social services. Sanders runs the Merced County Action Network, a nonprofit that cleans up graffiti and organizes Neighborhood Watch programs.

While their positions and goals overlapped during a recent forum, Sanders and Walsh are highlighting their differences and planning final moves to attract voters.

Sanders quickly lays out concrete ideas, such as opening a county-run hospital and establishing an airport authority, while Walsh paints a vision of a more open government fueled by citizen input.

They've raised about the same amount of money with a few donors, such as Gallo Cattle Co., giving to both campaigns. Sanders said he has raised about $24,000 with about $3,000 left in the bank. He plans to file campaign disclosure forms, due Monday, today.

Walsh has collected about $28,000 with $2,000 still on hand, according to the public filings.

Both seem to have a likely shot of winning the seat Nov. 4, and the race could come down to a popularity contest more than a battle of policies and plans.

"I think there are enough similarities between them that it may come down to their personalities," outgoing District 2 Supervisor Kathleen Crookham said.

Crookham has declined to endorse either candidate and tells people that whoever wins is who she wanted to see in office. Both candidates have strengths and weaknesses, she said, declining to elaborate.

As supervisor for the past 12 years, she's seen herself as a bridge between the city and its residents because the district doesn't have many rural residents compared with other districts.

Walsh and Sanders both have long ties to the community and the Merced City Council.

Walsh served on the council from 1995 to 2001 and was Merced's mayor from 2001 to 2005. Sanders has been on the council since 2001 and was reelected to a second term in 2005.

As a public employee for decades, Walsh said he knows how different counties approach problems. He's touting a plan for more open government as a way to aid in solving Merced County's woes. "In tough times, it will assist us in moving forward," he said.

He also wants to spend more time looking at why employers chose or didn't choose to locate in the county. That way leaders know what needs to be improved, such as the work force or the infrastructure, to create more jobs.

Sanders said he believes he can overhaul government better than Walsh. "To rise in a bureaucracy, you don't take risks," Sanders said. "Someone from inside the box isn't someone who can help you redesign it."

He said he wants to form an airport authority so the county can make sure all the nearby airports are being used to their potential, including the one at Castle Commerce Center.

With Mercy Medical Center Merced building a new hospital, he thinks the county should look into opening its own hospital since there's such a need for medical care.

"That's a concrete idea," he explained. "It may not be a good idea, but it will be worth talking about."

Ideas or personality? Seems some of both will play a role in this race.

Reporter Scott Jason can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or sjason@mercedsun-star.com.

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