In June, Sen. John McCain and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani made fund-raising stops in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, and McCain added an appearance in downtown Modesto.
Some pundits reasoned at the time that with more voters living in the valley, and a competitive Republican primary for president in California, the stopovers could herald a steady parade of top-office wanna-bes visiting the region.
Since then? Pfft, as far as Republican candidates go. On the Democrat side, something less than pfft, because not one has dropped by in this campaign cycle.
Although that could change between now and the state's February primary, the 2008 presidential race is likely to be closer to watching a horse race at an off-track betting site than at the track.
Blame money, blame the state's size, or blame a primary cycle that will feel like a Mountain Dew bender. All are reasons for the candidates to bypass Modesto and nearby cities.
Money: When McCain and Giuliani visited Modesto and Hughson, respectively, it's worth noting that both did so largely to collect cash.
With more money than ever needed to make a political run, California is a giant ATM for anyone seeking national office, Democrat or Republican.
But politically, California has been a solid blue state since the 1992 election. Usually, the Republican candidate hasn't come close.
So candidates on both sides find it more pragmatic to drop in, raise a few hundred thousand dollars here and there, and then head off to competitive states such as Ohio, Florida and Michigan, where that money is more useful.
Size: California's huge population and chunk of electoral votes make it a nice prize. They also make it hard to campaign in.
For maximum media exposure, a candidate such as Giuliani or Sen. Hillary Clinton will stick to Los Angeles or San Francisco. Clinton's visit to Fresno last month was her first anywhere in the San Joaquin Valley as a candidate.
Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin counties have about 1.5 million residents. That's more people than in all of New Hampshire (1.3 million), the state getting so much love from presidential hopefuls right now.
But the counties' combined population is barely 4 percent of California's population.
Primary calendar: Even if the first two factors weren't in play, the 2008 primary schedule might make the Northern San Joaquin Valley an afterthought to most campaigns.
The primary season begins with New Hampshire either in late December or early January, state officials haven't decided. On Feb. 5, California will have its primary, moved up to give the state more say in picking presidential nominees.
But between those two primaries, Florida, Michigan, Wyoming and South Carolina will have theirs. Iowa and Nevada will have caucuses.
And California's primary will be alongside those in vote-rich states such as New York, Illinois, and 15 others.
So candidates will have a backside-on-fire stretch in midwinter that means any and all appearances will have to be brief and directed where they make the most political sense.
Despite it all, valley loyalists on both sides still believe their candidate will come.
Claudia Parks, a Democratic Party volunteer in Modesto, said she's working to get former Sen. John Edwards to visit the valley.
"You get a candidate, anywhere he or she makes a showing, and it makes a difference," she said. She emphasizes that decline-to-state voters, the fastest growing "party" in the state, often break toward Democrats.
On the Republican side, Joan Clendenin, chairman of the Republican Party of Stanislaus County (Central Committee), said local representatives from the campaigns of party front-runners Giuliani, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Sen. Fred Thompson all believe their guys will visit somewhere from Sacramento to Bakersfield in the months ahead.
She pointed out that the last Republican politicians who campaigned extensively in the valley were former Gov. Pete Wilson and former President Bush.
Not coincidentally, she said, they are among the handful of Republicans who have won statewide in the past 20 years.
"It is a mistake to neglect the valley," she said.
Still, some candidates may take their chances.
While Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, has endorsed Giuliani, Democratic Rep. Dennis Cardoza of Merced has held off.
He's waiting for a candidate, or more than one of them, to visit his valley district, said his spokesman.
He may have to wait awhile.
Bee staff writer Ben van der Meer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2331.