Who's running for office? Ready for a few surprises?

Every election is interesting, but it really spices things up when some strong incumbents step aside, creating unexpected opportunities. That's what has happened with Dave Cogdill's decision not to seek a second term in the state Senate, with Tom Berryhill's decision to run for Cogdill's Senate seat instead of seeking a third term in the Assembly, and with Jeff Grover's announcement that he won't seek another term on the Board of Supervisors.

Two men in lower-profile positions also told me this week that they won't run again — Stanislaus County Assessor Doug Harms and Auditor Larry Haugh.

Typically, assessor candidates emerge out of the assessor's staff, but there's a potential wildcard — Cogdill.

He's a longtime appraiser and looks forward to spending more time in Modesto with family. So is he interested? A spokeswoman said Thursday that he's "definitely considering" running for county assessor. She said he only recently learned that the position will be available, so he didn't make his decision not to run for the Senate with the idea of becoming assessor, but that's become a possibility.

Cogdill has the expertise, experience in overseeing an office and the name recognition that would make it tough for other candidates.

Meanwhile, Assistant Auditor Stephen Smith is seriously considering running for auditor. Smith has worked in the office for 25 years.

I touched base with a number of officials and potential candidates this week:

Dick Monteith: The former state senator is not interested in another legislative office but does plan to announce next month that he'll run for a second term on the Board of Supervisors.

Bill O'Brien: His name keeps surfacing as a possible contender for Tom Berryhill's 25th Assembly seat. His response to my e-mail: "Although I am honored to continue to be considered a viable candidate, and I am intrigued by the opportunity to run for Assembly, the timing is just not right for me and my family."

When Grover announced last month that he won't run for the county board again, he immediately endorsed Bill Lyons for the job. Speculation persists that Grover might look at some other race, but he told me no, "I'm not interested in any elected position — without qualification." He does expect to stay involved in community issues.

Modesto CPA Terry Withrow told me Friday that he'll make announcement before Christmas on whether he intends to run against Lyons.

Treasurer-Tax Collector Gordon Ford does plan to seek re-election.

County Superintendent of Schools Tom Changnon has formally announced he's running. District Attorney Birgit Fladager and County Clerk-Recorder and Registrar of Voters Lee Lundrigan also are planning re-election campaigns.

As we've previously reported, Sheriff Adam Christianson is being challenged by Rob Jackson, a lieutenant in the Turlock Police Department.

The primary contests for the Legislature and Congress are in June, along with the county races. Some of the county races could be filled at that time, but if there are three or more candidates and no one gets more than 50 percent of the votes, the top two would go to a runoff in November.

Sly is editor of The Bee's Opinions pages. Contact her at 578-2317 or