The Republican primary race for the 25th Assembly District has given the Stanislaus County Republican family a severe case of divided loyalties. And like any family fight, some people just don't want to choose sides.
Several of the six candidates share similar backgrounds and friends. Just months ago, Kristin Ol-sen and Janice Keating sat on the same dais as Modesto City Council members. Two of their rivals, former Turlock City Councilman Kurt Vander Weide and former Modesto City Councilman Bill Conrad, also have deep ties in local GOP circles.
Also in the mix are Tuolumne County Supervisor Teri Murrison and Riverbank City Councilman Jesse James White.
Many would-be donors and supporters are sitting on the sidelines, holding off on making endorsements or donations until after the June 8 primary.
"It's kind of one big family down there, so how do you get involved?" said Evan Oneto, 26th District Assemblyman Bill Berryhill's chief of staff. "Bill is friends with all the candidates, and his feeling is any one of them would be a fine Assembly member, so he's not weighing in."
Likewise, the 25th District's incumbent, Bill Berryhill's brother Assemblyman Tom Berryhill, hasn't endorsed anyone. Neither has state Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto.
"We all may have our favorites, but for the most part the people I'm talking to are like, 'I really like them, so how can I endorse just one?' " said Nicolas C. Blom, a member of the Stanislaus County Republican Central Committee and son of former County Supervisor Nick Blom.
He and his father have been hit up for endorsements. They've told candidates they'll have to wait until after the primary.
"Modesto is as tight as a drum," Murrison said. "People not only don't want to endorse Janice and Kristin because they're friends, they don't want to endorse anybody. It's a good thing there are other places besides the center of Modesto."
Murrison, a Tuolumne County supervisor, is hoping to connect with voters in the district's rural areas, where her foothill background will resonate. The district spans six counties from Modesto to Madera.
The touchy situation was highlighted last week when Olsen released her donor list. It included some organizations and people that had intended to stay neutral, such as the Modesto Chamber of Commerce and Modesto City Councilman Brad Hawn.
They both gave money to Olsen last fall for her City Council campaign, then Olsen transferred the donations to her Assembly account.
Neither has endorsed Olsen in her Assembly bid. The confusion put the chamber in an awkward spot, said chamber Chief Executive Officer Joy Madison, who fielded several phone calls from chamber members.
"We specifically said we weren't taking a position," Madison said. "We need to be fair to everybody."
Olsen and Keating sent out dueling press releases last week, each declaring herself the financial front-runner. Each has raised about $70,000. But that's a relatively low amount for an Assembly race, political observers say.
A front runner in a less-crowded Assembly primary usually would have at least $100,000 at this point, said Jeff Perine, who's managed political campaigns and is serving as Keating's treasurer. With less money in play, candidates will have to rely heavily on shoe leather campaigning, Perine said.
"Usually a person can raise $500,000 and they spend all their money on consultants that craft and deliver mailers and the ground game is secondary," Perine said.
"In this race, it's going to be the candidate that can energize their volunteers to go out and share their message in the neighborhoods."