SACRAMENTO -- Former Assemblyman Simon Salinas said Friday that he will put his name on the ballot as the Democratic alternative in the recall campaign of Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Merced.
The move sets up a rematch between Salinas, a three-term assemblyman who left office in 2006, and Denham, who lost to Salinas in a $2.5 million Assembly campaign in 2000.
"It's crunch time and I've decided I am going to put my name in the ring," Salinas said.
With 60 days until the recall, which the governor combined with the June 3 leg- islative primaries, the campaign is in full swing, with the recall effort airing TV attack ads on Denham this week and Denham countering with a radio commercial.
The state Democratic Party deposited $360,000 this week to support the recall, and Denham transferred more than $150,000 from his old campaign account to fight the recall.
Democratic leaders had hoped Salinas would challenge Denham in 2006, but he opted instead to run for the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, a race he won. Denham cruised to re-election with nearly 60 percent of the vote.
Salinas said he has been eyeing the recall since the signature-gathering stage late in 2007, but "wanted to see what the reaction would be of the voters."
His old Assembly seat, Salinas said, covered roughly one-third of the sprawling Senate District 12, which stretches from Merced to within miles of the Monterey coast.
Earlier Friday, another would-be Democratic candidate, Assemblywoman Anna Caballero of Salinas, announced she would not run, saying she was "fully committed" to her current legislative work in the Assembly.
"I'm honored that so many people I respect would want me to represent them in the Senate," Caballero said in a prepared statement, adding that moving over to the Senate "doesn't make sense to me."
Earlier this week, a third rumored Democratic candidate, Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse, also dropped out.
The recall campaign has turned bitterly partisan. The first anti-Denham TV ad accuses Denham of "sleepwalking" in the Senate, while Denham spokesman Kevin Spillane has accused Senate President Pro Tem Donald Perata, who has backed the recall, of being a "petulant power grabber."