Voters who wanted to kick the tires and check out Arnold Schwarzenegger and Phil Angelides in person during the governor's race four years ago didn't get many chances around Modesto.
Schwarzenegger swung through like the movie star he is for one rally but didn't come back. Democrat Angelides had a couple of under- whelming meet-and- greets.
"Fresno" apparently still says "Central Valley" better than "Modesto" to TV cameras.
This year was different, at least for Republicans who wanted to look Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner in the eye and check out what's behind their $100 million fight for the right to face Democrat Jerry Brown in November.
They held repeated meetings with public and private groups around Modesto. Those events didn't hit as many voters as their TV blitzes, but they formed impressions among committed voters and opinion leaders.
Local leaders hope the winner remembers Stanislaus County. We can use the help, with our 18.3 percent unemployment rate and aftershocks from the region's foreclosure crisis.
"Both (candidates) clearly see our area as important and have invested time and resources, which is something you don't always see," said Modesto City Councilman Joe Muratore.
Some went in with preferences. Supervisor Jim DeMartini likes Poizner and thought Whitman should've taken more interviews with the media and conservative talk radio hosts.
"The Republicans are the ones who listen to talk radio, so it's really kind of telling when you have a Republican candidate who won't go on talk radio, which is a friendly audience," said DeMartini, chairman of the county's Republican central committee.
"That means you must realize you have a liberal streak in you, and you don't want it to come out."
People who went to sessions with both candidates left calling Whitman polished but a little on the stiff side. They found Poizner open.
"Both of them were very earnest that they want to be the governor, that this is something they feel very driven to do," said Modesto Chamber of Commerce chief executive Joy Madison, who brought the candidates to town. "Both of them definitely have studied the issues. The differences between them are more nuance than anything else."
That's not what I picked up from the TV ads, with the two Republicans trying to link the other to Democrats as much as possible.
Like Madison, others in the GOP are trying to bridge the gap between the superwealthy candidates. They're looking toward November, and Brown.
"I'm a moderate, but given the fiscal crisis the state of California is in, I think the platform for these candidates is the one the state has to adopt," Muratore said.
FINAL THOUGHTS: We last saw Brown in town three years ago at the Gallo Center for the Arts' grand opening. He was a guest of E.&J. Gallo Winery co-chairman Bob Gallo. It's safe to say Brown knows Modesto, too. ...
Bee Assistant City Editor Adam Ashton can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2366.