The 12th Senate District has distinct contrasts, split as it is between the San Joaquin Valley and Central Coast.
The differences are more subtle between Republican Anthony Cannella and Democrat Anna Caballero, who are facing off in the Nov. 2 election.
Both vow to promote job creation, education, public safety and increased water storage while keeping a sharp eye on the state budget. Both promise to work across party lines.
"You don't care whether they have an 'R' or 'D' after their name," said Caballero, a Salinas-area assemblywoman and former mayor of that city. "You start solving problems. That's what I bring to the table."
Cannella, an engineer and mayor of Ceres, said bipartisanship starts with his own family: His father is former Democratic lawmaker Sal Cannella.
"We don't need party-line votes anymore," he said. "We need people that are going to take a subject, dig into the subject, understand that it's not Republican versus Democrat. It's good idea versus bad idea."
The two spoke Wednesday at a meeting of The Bee's editorial board.
The 12th intrigues political watchers. Democrats hold a 50 percent to 31 percent edge in voter registration, but the district has been represented since 2002 by state Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Merced, who is running for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Nearly three-fourths of the voters are in Stanislaus, Merced and Ma- dera counties, which would seem to favor Cannella, and yet Denham won his first election while still living in Salinas.
The 2010 election is a crucial one, because a Democratic win could move the party closer to a two-thirds majority in the Senate, enough to pass a budget without Republican votes.
The next campaign finance reports, due out early next month, are likely to show a surge of money into this contest.
The totals were modest as of June 30: Caballero had $212,299 on hand, Cannella $201,186. Both ran unopposed in the primary.
In the general election, they are aiming their messages of competence and independence at a district electorate that has hit on hard times and is known for crossover voting.
Caballero and Cannella cite how they balanced city budgets while keeping public safety a priority.
Both support a Nov. 2 ballot measure that would keep the state from raiding local government funds. They also said they would work to get public employee pensions under control.
Cannella said In-Home Support Services, a state program that pays relatives and others caring for elderly and disabled people, could save money if the medical needs were better documented. Caballero said this program should be preserved because it prevents expensive hospital stays.
Both candidates oppose the ballot measure that would legalize marijuana use. The same goes for a measure that would return the job of drawing legislative districts to lawmakers, instead of a new citizens commission.
And they oppose a measure that would fund state parks with an $18-a-year vehicle fee. Cannella said it's an example of lawmakers failing to deal with budget issues and leaving decisions to voters.
"The state is a mess," he said. "They need to get their fiscal house in order, and all these problems will be resolved."
Caballero said Salinas did a thorough review of each department's spending under her watch, and the Senate should do the same.
"I do not support tax increases," she said. "We're done with that. It's over. What I do support is a performance-based budgeting process."
Caballero said she worked with Republicans to help first-time home buyers and to draft the water bond measure on the November 2011 ballot.
She and Cannella support the state's high-speed rail project and the effort to put its job-rich maintenance hub in Merced County.
Cannella, president of Northstar Engineering in Modesto, said the state needs to reduce regulations on small businesses. The jobless rate would be halved if each of them hired just one person, he said.
"We invest in our community, we invest in our employees' lives, and we make a real difference," he said.
Caballero cited her own business experience as owner for 24 years of a law firm geared toward low-income clients.
"I wanted to represent people who didn't have an opportunity to talk to an attorney because it's so incredibly expensive," she said.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2385.