It's not like last time.
Four years ago, the race for Stanislaus County sheriff was downright nasty, dividing the department and community and driving dramatic headlines as a charismatic lieutenant dared to challenge the heir apparent to a popular former sheriff.
This year, first-term Sheriff Adam Christianson — the former lieutenant with formidable people skills — finds himself in the opposite role as another former lieutenant attempts to topple him.
Rob Jackson, who spent nearly 20 years in the department before becoming a police captain in Turlock, says the county can't afford another four years of hoping that Christianson will develop into an effective leader.
With the economy faltering and his budget slashed, Christianson says the department can't afford to put its future in the hands of an inexperienced challenger.
Christianson's campaign bank account and list of supporters dwarfs Jackson's, yet Jackson snagged a crucial endorsement when the patrol deputies' union turned against Christianson.
Campaign saber-rattling has been much less bitter than in 2006, when Christianson and then-Assistant Sheriff Mark Puthuff traded body blows and endured painful scrutiny in the first true race for sheriff since 1990.
Years ago, Christianson and Jackson crossed paths in training when both were K-9 handlers. Both became lieutenants under former Sheriff Les Weidman, both have been known to read books on leadership in their spare time and both are members of the National Rifle Association.
And both want to lead the county's most visible agency through an unprecedented time of financial crisis.
"Now is not the time for change in leadership," Christianson said.
Said Jackson, "There hasn't been a lot of leadership."