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Denham quits Lt. Gov. race, will vie for Berryhill's assembly seat

State Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Atwater, is ending his campaign for lieutenant governor and running for the Assembly seat being vacated by Tom Berryhill of Modesto.

Denham met in the past two days with Gov. Schwarzenegger, other GOP leaders and his family before reaching his decision to run for Berryhill's Assembly District 25. It will require him to move out of Merced County and into Stanislaus County.

He said running for the Assembly seat will give him a chance to become a key leader in the Legislature after serving two terms in the Senate.

"At a time when you have term limits and very little experience in the Assembly, it's going to give me an opportunity to come in and finish a lot of things I've been working on for our community," he said.

Denham will enter the race with more than $1 million in campaign funds he raised to run for lieutenant governor and to beat back a recall campaign last year.

He faces Modesto City Councilwoman Janice Keating, who announced this week that she intends to run for Berryhill's seat. Keating is a solid fund-raiser in her own right, having assembled six-figure war chests for a 2006 race for a Stanislaus County supervisor’s seat and to help pass a local government reform measure in 2008.

Denham said his priorities for an Assembly term include enacting budget reforms, curbing government waste and supporting education.

His decision to leave the lieutenant governor’s race clears the Republican primary for that campaign, leaving Sen. Sam Aanestad of Nevada County and Sen. Abel Maldonado of Santa Maria.

It follows Sen. Dave Cogdill's decision not to run for re-election this year to represent District 14, which persuaded Berryhill to make a run for the Senate instead of trying to retain his Assembly seat.Denham said he intends to move to Modesto, much of which he represents in Senate District 12.