MERCED -- The countdown to a showdown keeps ticking.
The signatures to place a recall of state Sen. Jeff Denham on the ballot are nearly finished being verified. A committee to oust the Merced Republican has been formed.
Denham's opponents are closing in on the halfway mark to send the matter to voters, and the results may be clear in a week. A third of the 61,598 signatures checked so far show that recall backers have 42 percent of the number needed.
Since February, the secretary of state's office has been releasing daily counts of the signatures verified by the five counties in District 12 represented by Denham. The deadline to report the totals is April 1.
Denham's camp is preparing for a battle to keep the Republican in office. The state senator is raising money, hiring workers and is ready to launch a campaign.
"We're getting ready to kick some butt," Denham's Sacramento adviser, Tim Clark, said Thursday. "We are not going to take anything for granted."
The recall, which started with "Dump Denham!" signs posted around Merced and other cities, has been spearheaded by Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, who was upset that Denham refused to vote for the 2007-08 state budget over the summer.
It's since grown to become a big-money effort, with the "We Deserve Better. Yes on the Recall of Jeff Denham" committee forming two weeks ago in anticipation that the recall will go to voters.
Kevin Spillane, a Denham spokesman hired for the recall effort, said there's been an outpouring of support in the past few months. Spillane said he believes voters will view the recall campaign as dirty politics.
"This is about a Sacramento politician trying to reverse the will of the people by manipulating the recall process," Spillane said.
The recall campaign has been linked to Perata, and the committee is based out of Perata adviser Sandi Polka's office in Sacramento.
While the fate of the recall campaign has not been determined, Monterey County Supervisor Simon Salinas has said he may run for Denham's seat.
Salinas, who was not available for comment Thursday, served in the Assembly from 2000 to 2006.
Attorney George "Wiley" Nickel of Los Banos, who challenged Denham in the 2006 election said he's ruled out plans to run again against Denham, noting that other good candidates may be going for the seat.
California Democratic Party campaign adviser Bob Mulholland declined to elaborate on whom the party may back or how they'll convince voters to oust Denham, who was re-elected by a landslide.
"(He) will be in a bunker trying to defend himself on things he can't defend himself on," Mulholland said. "The sooner he is gone, the better off our kids will be," Mulholland said.
Madera and San Benito counties have finished their tally and reported to the secretary of state's office.
They project 3,228 of the 5,042 signatures are valid. Each county is randomly sampling at least 500 of the signatures to see how many are valid. The ratio is used to calculate a full tally.
Merced County Auditor-Controller Stephen Jones said about 11,000 signature are believed to be valid; the results have been sent to the state.
The five counties need to have a combined sample that projects more than 34,193 signatures being valid. The three counties finished put the total at 14,228.
An additional 40,415 signatures are being counted by election officials in Monterey and Stanislaus counties.
An official with Monterey County said they may be reporting today or Monday. Stanislaus County Clerk-Recorder Lee Lundrigan said her office should be done sampling the 28,586 signatures soon.
She wouldn't guess when, but added, "We are moving ahead briskly."