The race to succeed Republican Tom Berryhill in the state Assembly is a standing room only contest.
Former Modesto City Councilman Bill Conrad joined a crowded field Wednesday, bringing the number of Republicans in the June 8 primary to six.
Conrad's rivals are former Modesto City Councilwoman Janice Keating, Tuolumne County Supervisor Teri Murrison, Modesto City Councilwoman Kristin Ol-sen, former Turlock City Councilman Kurt Vander Weide and Riverbank Councilman Jesse James White.
Whoever wins the primary is expected to prevail in the November election in the GOP-leaning district. A Democrat, George Fry of Angels Camp, considered a run but decided against it.
Conrad, 52, is a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve. He recently completed two tours in Afghanistan. He works half-time at his family's commercial real estate business.
Conrad said he was inspired to run after he received a "frustrating" tax bill from the state.
"(Voters) want job creation and they want people to go back to work," he said. "The only way you do that, I believe, is to reduce income tax, reduce the size of the government and reduce regulation."
Conrad served on the Modesto City Council from 1997 to 2003. He ran unsuccessfully against Berryhill in 2006.
The brimming ballot is a pleasant surprise for political watchers, said Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini, chairman of the county Republican Central Committee.
Most expected Berryhill to run for re-election against few challengers. Instead, Berryhill is making a play for the 14th District State Senate seat being vacated by Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto.
"This is one of the more interesting races of any of them around," DeMartini said. "It's a seat where anybody could win it. The person who wins this could win with 25 percent of the vote."
DeMartini said he's not planning to donate money or endorse any of the candidates.
The public will meet the candidates at a question-and-answer forum tonight at Modesto Junior College. The event could prove pivotal, because the California Republican Assembly is expected to decide immediately afterward who it will endorse, said Joan Clendenin, Republican Central Committee vice chairwoman.
The California Republican Assembly is a statewide organization that deploys volunteers to get out the vote on behalf of conservative Republicans. Those boots on the ground will be useful in the sprawling 25th Assembly District, Clendenin said.
A mishmash of urban, rural and mountain areas that includes Yosemite National Park, the district spans parts of Stanislaus and Madera counties and all of Calaveras, Tuolumne, Mariposa and Mono counties.
Knocking on large numbers of voters' doors and reaching every mailbox will be a challenge. With so many contenders, it's expected to be difficult for one candidate to build a commanding fund-raising lead.
"That's a lot of territory to cover," Clendenin said. "Just visiting every major city in that district between now and June 8 is going to be a tremendous undertaking."
The diverse candidate pool gives urban and rural voters something from which to choose. Olsen and Keating are well-known to Modestans, who've watched them more recently in action on the City Council than Conrad.
Vander Weide is a district aide to U.S. Rep. George Radanovich, whose 19th Congressional District includes the foothills and much of the 25th Assembly District. Murrison, elected supervisor in 2006, has her base in Twain Harte and other parts of Tuolumne County.
White, 21, could get traction if younger voters participate in the primary, Clendenin said.
Conrad could benefit from his previous run, if voters remember him, Clendenin said. "He's had a presence up there, but it was four years ago and he lost, so you don't know how that will play out," she said. "But he's got his military background, which brings him a whole group of voters, possibly."
Wednesday was the deadline for candidates to file papers at county election offices. The secretary of state's office will verify the information and release an official list of candidates April 1.