This much is clear for voters from all parties: It won't be easy to make a choice in the 23rd Assembly District, where two Republicans are facing each other in the November general election.
Former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson and current Clovis City Council Member Bob Whalen are not only both conservatives, but they also have very similar stances on the issues.
It adds up to a tough choice for Republicans who may be looking for the more conservative of the two, or Democrats who may be hoping one is more moderate than the other.
"Voters are stuck in this kind of race because if you can't go on issues, then you are going to go on those things people say you're not supposed to go on," said Fresno State political science professor David Schecter, citing examples such as personality or which one looks nicer in a suit.
He called it one of the unforeseen consequences of the state's new election system, which pits the top two vote-getters in the primary against each other -- regardless of political party.
Part of the new system's appeal was that it would supposedly moderate candidates so they would appeal to voters from either major political party. But in the 23rd District, Schecter said, both Patterson and Whalen are -- at least outwardly -- sticking to their conservative political stances.
"It's going to be real messy," he said of the race to replace Republican Linda Halderman, who this year unexpectedly announced she wouldn't seek a second Assembly term.
Even some of those who routinely endorse candidates are divided.
For example, the Lincoln Club of Fresno County, a Republican organization, has endorsed Patterson, but its chairman, Michael Der Manouel Jr., has endorsed Whalen.
Even more frustrating for voters looking for differences, both candidates have declined to sign the "no-tax" pledges that are popular among Republicans, and neither has taken a position on Proposition 32, which would ban unions from deducting money from workers' paychecks to spend on political campaigns.
The 23rd District, which covers the eastern half of Fresno County and a chunk of lightly populated parts of Tulare County, is strongly Republican. The most recent statistics show Republicans have 45% of the registered voters, to 34% for Democrats.
Still, there are more than 81,000 Democrats in the district, and unless they decide to leave their ballot blank -- which is a possibility -- they will have to choose between the two Republicans.
Patterson has long been given front-runner status in the race. A dozen years after leaving the Fresno mayor's office, his name recognition remains high. He also did well in an unsuccessful 2010 congressional run in portions of the 19th Congressional District that overlap with the 23rd Assembly District.
In the primary, Patterson won 39.4% of the vote, easily outdistancing Whalen, who finished second with 25.5%, as well as three other candidates.
But Whalen has been impressive in his fundraising since the primary -- money he will likely need to counter Patterson's name-identification edge. In Whalen's most recent campaign statement, which covers July 1 to Sept. 30, he reported raising $160,100 and having more than $100,000 in his account.
Patterson, in the meantime, raised just $62,200 and had $48,000 in his account -- but also more than $11,000 in debt, which brings his real bank account total to around $37,000.
Whalen has picked up some money from the building community, which could reflect that he is currently an officeholder, or could be part of a lingering bitterness that some in that sector still hold against Patterson from his mayoral days.
In addition, Whalen has picked up a good amount of union support, including the Northern California Carpenters Regional Council, the Fresno City Firefighters, the Clovis Police Officers Association and the Fresno Police Officers Association.
In the case of the firefighters union, part of the thinking in supporting Whalen -- though Patterson missed his endorsement interview -- was lingering bitterness over a decision Patterson supported 18 years ago to eliminate the city's paramedics. They gave $5,000 to Whalen.
But it was the carpenters union money that caught the eye of Republican activist Jon Fleischman, publisher of the FlashReport, a widely read conservative blog.
"It's not unusual for public safety unions to give to Republicans, but it is certainly eye opening if Republican candidates are getting money from a trade union," he said. "That's not something that we'd typically see."
Patterson is backed by the Fresno Deputy Sheriffs Association.
Both Whalen and Patterson say they are trying to sell themselves and their experience to voters.
"I try to earn their confidence by trying to let them know the sum total of experiences I've had in my life," Patterson said.
Among those, he said, are being a business owner who has "run into the same tax and regulatory issues as every small-business owner," as well as serving eight years as Fresno's mayor.
Patterson said he worked with nine union bargaining units, 4,000 employees and balanced budgets during his two terms in office. The budget his first year in office, he said, was $8 million in the red.
Even though he is a conservative, Whalen doesn't shy from his union support, and adds that Democrats such as former Fresno City Council Members Mike Dages and Dan Ronquillo -- as well as current member Blong Xiong -- have endorsed him.
"I do get the sense that they see me as someone who's going to be a problem solver and someone who can bring people together," Whalen said.
Patterson has his own Fresno City Council supporters, including Lee Brand and Clint Olivier, as well as Madera County Sheriff John Anderson. Fresno County Supervisor Debbie Poochigian felt strong enough about her endorsement of Patterson that she sent out a mail piece to her constituents.
Despite the conservative lean of Patterson's supporters, he has predicted he could find common ground with moderate Democrats on taxation and regulatory reform.
"Sacramento has the same kinds of issues today that I wrestled with as mayor," he said. "I think I can be sympathetic when small farmers say, 'Where's our water?' And small business says, 'Why are we getting taxed and regulated?' "
23rd Assembly District candidates
City of residence: Fresno
Occupation: Businessman, broadcast executive
Education: Fresno State University, political science
Family: Married, 3 children, 2 grandchildren
Party preference: Republican
City of residence: Clovis Occupation: Prosecutor, Clovis Council Member
Education: Bachelor's degree, Fresno State; law degree, Regent College
Family: Married, one child
Party preference: Republican
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6320, firstname.lastname@example.org or @johnellis24 on Twitter.