GOP Assembly hopefuls make last pitches

With less than a week till voters cast ballots, five of the six Republicans running for an open Assembly seat are making final pitches to break out from the pack.

All of them are sticking to positive tones in their advertisements and mailers in their bid for the 25th Assembly District — pledging to fight for Republican priorities in Sacramento and highlighting their records in local government.

Modesto City Councilwoman Kristin Olsen has taken a lead in fund raising, and she's spending the money on mailers and phone calls. She benefited from an independent expenditure from the state police officers' union, which contributed $12,000 toward her election by including her on a slate mailer of endorsements. She's also walking precincts and attending public events.

Former Modesto Councilwoman Janice Keating, meanwhile, is winning plaudits for a 59-page book she mailed to voters. She's on a tour of supermarkets to meet voters and talk about the book.

They're considered leaders in the race because of their name recognition in Stanislaus County, but their opponents are pouring resources and time into the other five counties that make up the district.

With that, it remains just about anybody's race.

"Whoever wins probably will have no more than 25 percent of the vote, and we may not even know on election night," said Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini, the leader of the county's Republican central committee.

The seat opened in December, when incumbent Tom Berryhill opted to run for the state Senate instead of seeking re-election. Within weeks, the six candidates — all with experience in elected office — filed papers to run.

Along with Keating and Olsen, the field includes Tuolumne County Supervisor Teri Murrison, former Turlock Councilman Kurt Vander Weide, former Modesto Councilman Bill Conrad and Riverbank Councilman Jesse James White.

White has become an increasing longshot following his May 14 arrest on suspicion of possessing marijuana and cocaine at his home in violation of his parole from a "wet and reckless" driving conviction.

Similar philosophies, goals

The candidates are close in their political philosophies. They also share similar goals — reducing state spending, cutting taxes and rolling back regulation on business.

"This is a race where few people are going to determine the outcome," said political consultant Mike Lynch. "The whole election is about the true conservative, the truer conservative, the truest conservative," he joked, playing with the phrasing from Olsen's "True Conservative" campaign signs.

With five days to go, here's what the candidates are up to:

Olsen gathered $135,817 for the campaign, and spent $130,116. She says her credentials as a social conservative and her experience in Sacramento as a legislative aide distinguish her.

"I'll be able to hit the ground running," she said. "I won't have to take time learning the process. I think that's important because California is in such a dire straits and there's no time to waste."

Keating's book, "Words and Deeds," has been well received and helped her pick up an extra $14,650 in contributions since the close of the last campaign finance reporting period last week. That brings her haul to about $130,000.

She said the book gave voters a full picture of her background and goals.

"If you're going to get the most bang for your buck, you may as well just open yourself up to the voters and let them absorb it in the context they see fit," she said.

Vander Weide raised $84,674 for the race and has spent more than $74,000. His mailers tout his endorsement from the conservative California Republican Assembly, and link him to two of his former employers: Rep. George Radanovich of Mariposa and Assemblyman George House of Hughson.

Vander Weide wants the endorsements to show the breadth of his experience working in politics throughout the Northern San Joaquin Valley and the foothills.

"The ground game has always been my strong suit in this campaign and we're walking precincts relentlessly, from Oakhurst to Mokelumne Hill," he said.

Murrison is putting miles on her car, driving from Madera to Calaveras County and spending time in the heart of the district in Modesto. Former Secretary of State Bill Jones also recorded a message for her.

"We've all kind of run neck-and-neck most of the way," she said. "It's been an interesting race. For a long time, not many people had a lot of resources and it's just been in the last week or two that things have changed."

Conrad has spent about $11,000, but is stretching the money by doing much of the work in producing his campaign materials himself. His mailers highlight his recent service with the Army in Afghanistan, and his credentials as a fiscal conservative from his days on the Modesto council.

"For me it has been one of my most enjoyable races," Conrad, who has run for Congress and the Assembly in the past, wrote in an e-mail. "It has been good to get out and see people throughout the district."

Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at or 578-2366.