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Berryhill predicts victory despite woes
Michael Berryhill, Ceres farmer-turned-candidate seeking to unseat Congressman Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, says his campaign has steam despite a recent flap that portrays his political efforts as bumbling.

The conservative Republican, running in the 18th Congressional District, was slammed in a recent youtube video posted by his short-lived campaign consultant, John D. Villarreal. He accuses Berryhill of breech of contract and suggests that Berryhill's campaign operation is over.

Berryhill said he parted ways with Villarreal just 21 days after hiring him and suggested the dismissal came about when he "figured out it was not what I wanted to do." Berryhill was encouraged to hire the 39-year-old Villarreal by Modesto radio talk show host Dave Diamond as a way to reach out to the younger generation.

"We're into the legal side of things so I can't say very much," said Berryhill. "It didn't work out. But it should be clear to anyone, for obvious reasons, who research the situation."

At least one video posted on youtube shows Villarreal explaining the need to "stay in shape to fight these Obama fools" before stripping down to his shorts to flex and comment on his muscles. Other videos depict an aggressive Villarreal on a tirade against Berryhill.

The Cardoza campaign refused to comment on the Villarreal flap. "That's between Mr. Berryhill and his consultant and doesn't have anything to do with his campaign," said Cardoza campaign consultant Mike Lynch.

Berryhill, a former director of the Turlock Irrigation District and the nephew of the late state food and agriculture director Clare Berryhill, replaced Villarreal in August with Randy Brown as campaign manager. Brown is Berryhill's third campaign manager since the campaign started a year ago. Carl Fogliani, a Stockton campaign consultant, first ran the campaign and left it in June when Berryhill decided to let him go. Berryhill turned to Villarreal on August 6 to run the campaign.

Villarreal states his belief in the youtube video that the Berryhill campaign is sunk - something the candidates calls "nuts."

"We just had a huge fundraiser last night," Berryhill told the Courier on Thursday. "I believe we're very close to victory on this thing."

Berryhill is trailing Cardoza in campaign dollars. When he announced his candidacy at Berryhill School in Ceres a year ago, Berryhill said a million dollars would be required to run an effective campaign. In his last political campaign financial statement, Berryhill reported having $759,667, of which $710,000 was loans to himself. Last week he said his campaign has raised approximately $200,000 in donations. By contrast, Cardoza has raised $805,409 as noted in the last finance reporting period.

In July Berryhill came under fire for shifting his own money into his campaign coffers before two filing period deadline passed and removing the money afterwards. Berryhill said he the transfers were ill-advised, saying "my consultant told me that's what I'm supposed to to do before I fired him. After I fired him I realized I wasn't supposed to do that, I mean, there was no real need to do that and so I'm not doing that any more."

Berryhill said he's attracting a variety of donors. "I get my money from individuals, $5 to $4,800 and I've had a number of people give me $4,800 and numbers of people giving me $5," said Berryhill. "He, on the other hand, has all of his buddies, labor unions, PACs and what-not where he's getting his money from."

Berryhill claims being outgunned by Cardoza's war chest is "no obstacle but I'm trying to get more money." He said he wants to raise $200,000 by Oct. 1 for mailers in the last stretch of the campaign to go out in October.

"It comes down to the last 30 days of mailers," said the Republican who predicts Cardoza to "throw all he's got at me. This is really the first time he's had any competition. He's desperate."

Berryhill said what he lacks in money will be made up in the public's disapproval of Democrats who supported Obama's health care reform bill. That includes Cardoza. Jerry Brown's gubernatorial quest will assist him among the conservative district, he said.

"If I prevail, probably 50 percent will be because Jerry Brown's on the ballot."


Berryhill encountered a bit of good news when he was endorsed recently by the Merced County Farm Bureau.

"The Merced County Farm Bureau ... believe(s) Mike Berryhill to be the best candidate for the 18th Congressional District," said President Jeff Marchini. "Our board believes Mike will represent his constituents concerns and build awareness of the important role agriculture plays here in Central California and in the United States. We can count on Mike to fight for agriculture, the Central Valley's leading industry."

The endorsement was a vote of no confidence for Cardoza who has touted his pro-agriculture credentials, said Berryhill.

"Any time a farm bureau does not endorse somebody he has not been doing his job," claims Berryhill.

Lynch said Cardoza won the endorsement of the San Joaquin County Farm Bureau.

"Dennis has been a very strong support of agriculture in Congress," replied Lynch. "He has wide support in agriculture and has done a great job in agriculture. It's real clear in terms of who got the Farm Bll to cover specialty crops and got them help for farm equipment and all those bread and butter issues. He's been an effective congressman to the farm industry."

The 18th Congressional District favors Democrats in terms of voter registration but those voters tend to vote conservative. The district covers the western half of Stanislaus County, including Ceres, as well as Merced County, a sliver of San Joaquin County and a sliver of Fresno and Madera counties.

Berryhill said Cardoza is weak in Merced County where Cardoza served on city councils in Merced and Atwater before being elected to the state Assembly. Lucy Mejia, once an aide to Rep. Gary Condit, is managing Berryhill's campaign efforts in Merced County.

"I'm going to wipe him away in Merced (County)," said Berryhill. "He just doesn't have any support there. He moved to the East Coast and moved his family back and he comes back once in a while to visit. That's just infuriated a lot of people in the Merced area. The question is: Is he going to wipe me out in Stockton? It's crucial."

The two candidates are roughly evenly matched in Stanislaus County where the Berryhills enjoy good name recognition, he said. "My two cousins have Assembly districts right over the top of the 18th Congressional District so we are good to go on name recognition."

Lynch defended Cardoza's decision to move his family to Washington, D.C. saying with teenagers "it was imperative for him to be with his kids on a more consistent basis. It means he's taking care of his family. Berryhill can be critical if he wants but I think it's a misplaced criticism. The people in Merced will be very supportive of Dennis on election day as will the people in Ceres and Turlock and elsewhere. wWe're confident Dennis is going to do well in the district."

Berryhill was born and raised on the family ranch just south of Ceres. He attended Ceres High School. In the 1970s, Berryhill was elected to the Ceres School Board and hee served as a director on the Turlock Irrigation District board of directors from 1983 to 2009.

Cardoza was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2002. He was unopposed for re-election in 2008 but in 2006 took out Republican opposition in John Kanno in a 65.5 percent to 34.5 percent outcome. In 2004 Cardoza defeated Republican Charles Pringle in a 67.5 percent to 32.5 percent voter decision.