In an election year with close races expected on stages big (president) and small (Stanislaus County supervisor), a few politicians have no race to think about at all.
For them, the filing deadline earlier this month passed without a challenger taking out papers. In some cases for the primary or the general election.
Those elected officials can't give any pretense of being unconcerned about how those elections turn out. After all, many of them still will be involved in races for their political allies, and there's always the next, possibly contested, election to think about.
Merced's Dennis Cardoza, uncontested for a fourth term in the House of Representatives, puts it delicately: "If there was a perception I was doing a poor job, I'd have an opponent."
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Cardoza, a Democrat, did some polling last year to get a sense of what he could expect in a re-election campaign; in retrospect, a poll as useful as building an ark before a drought.
What he discovered is that in his 18th Congressional District, 49 percent of the Republicans would vote to re-elect him.
Cardoza, a moderate in a squarely moderate part of the state, may be an anomaly in his support among members from the other party.
But another aspect that benefits Cardoza may explain why other Central Valley congressmen, such as Republican George Radanovich of Mariposa, also are running unopposed.
Thanks to districts drawn seven years ago to favor as many voters of one political party registration as possible, almost every district throughout the states favors the incumbent politician or party.
That means uphill sledding for a challenger. And if the incumbent is well- known and scandal-free, uphill sledding with Sisyphus.
So challengers may have looked at Cardoza, with his campaign war chest of more than $525,000, and decided that doing the Iditarod in a thong had a better chance of succeeding.
That decision makes sense, but it's a shame all the same, said Joan Clendenin, chairwoman of the Republican Central Committee of Stanislaus County.
Clendenin said her group -- and her Democratic counterparts as well, she believes -- constantly ponders who can be recruited to run in races of all kinds. When no one can be found to run against an incumbent, she said, democracy suffers.
"Issues need to be debated and discussed," Clendenin said, but reapportionment, the drawing of political district boundaries, stymies that. "It's just set up to work that way."
And if a candidate has no opposition, voters have no reason to vote, depressing turnout, and giving more of
a mandate to the rigidly dogmatic voters for whom the districts are drawn in the first place.
That districts mostly skew to one party or another tends to make primary elections within parties more competitive, especially if it's an open seat.
Still, Ceres Unified School District trustee and Republican Bill Berryhill has no party rivals for the 26th Assembly District seat, now represented by termed-out Republican Greg Aghazarian.
Carl Flogging, a campaign consultant working with Berryhill, said that's because Berryhill -- whose brother Tom is an Assemblyman in another district and whose father, Clare, also served in the state Legislature -- sewed up the endorsements and scared off everyone.
"That allows you to take your case to the other side much sooner," Flogging said.
For good reason.
The 26th District is 41.2 percent Republican, but by registration numbers, that's only about
300 more voters than the number of Democrats in the district, who make up 41 percent.
If Democrat John Essonite -- also unopposed in his party's primary -- can drum up enough campaign cash and local support, he could make the general election race against Berryhill competitive, a rarity for an Assembly seat these days.
"This district is very focused on someone who goes to Sacramento to focus on working for the valley," Flogging said.
But even if the race is nonpartisan -- and Clendenin, for one, said her group sees all races as partisan in some way -- an uncontested race for a high-profile position is rare.
Take the nonpartisan Stanislaus County supervisor races. In 2004, Supervisor Bill O'Brien, who represents much of the county's northern and eastern reaches, took on longtime incumbent Pat Paul and beat her 55 percent to 44 percent.
Running for re-election this year, O'Brien said he expected a challenge. But with no opposition emerging, the executive at the grocery store chain of the same name will go straight to the express checkout line to another four-year term.
O'Brien said he's happy not to have to raise funds for his re-election. Otherwise, his approach to working on the board is the same.
"When I'm making decisions, I vote the way my heart and gut tells me to go," he said.
That's a strong principle. And, a cynic might say, it's easier to do when you're not facing re-election.
Bee staff writer Ben van der Mere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2331.