Its often said that voters know little about down-ballot candidates, running for anything less than those senator, governor or mayor.

But what about those political hopefuls way, way down the ballot? Even Jerry Brown, who enjoys album-cover recognition in his quest to become state attorney general, had to start off running for a largely unknown-to-the-public community college board seat.

But what does it take in races such as for Bay Areas transit agencies, in which voters are said to make split-second decisions based on vague name recognition or the line of work the

candidate has specified on the ballot?

Many candidates will tell you its old-fashioned shoe leather, knocking on doors so people know your name and know what office youre seeking.

I rode my bike around with a big sign on it for about six hours a day, said Bob Franklin, who narrowly beat an incumbent BART board member two years ago. I was in the best shape of my life afterwards. I would hold a sign with one hand and ride my bike with one arm for four months.

Not only are such contests largely unknown to voters, but transit offices have the added handicap of being used by only about 10 percent of the otherwise car-bound public. Holding up signs near BART stations, for instance, will only reach a small portion of the electorate.

Franklin spent $125,000, more than half of it from his own pocket, to pay for direct mailers, recorded robo-calls to registered voters and slate mailers to get his message out. Even then, he had help from another hard-working challenger siphoning away votes from the incumbent.

But how does one explain James Muhammad, Oaklands button man who neither campaigned nor made up any buttons for himself and still got 37,000 votes in his last attempt to win a seat on the governing body of AC Transit.

Now hes trying — still with no more than $300 for a flier and no door-knocking — to unseat incumbent at-large AC Transit board member Rebecca Reb Kaplan.

I dont really campaign that hard. I just talk to people, he said, adding that his work as a freelance paralegal doesnt allow time for campaigning.

He credits his support to bus drivers, who he thinks deserve more money but whose union has not endorsed him.

One AC Transit candidate, Jeff Davis of Fremont, has disavowed his own candidacy against Ward 5 incumbent Joe Bishofberger after Davis found out he didnt have the backing of union leaders as he had thought.

I knew I was a long shot from the beginning, said the former Fremont School Board member and former administrator of the Santa Clara County Valley Transportation Authority. Thinking he might run for Alameda County Supervisor, Davis said he was encouraged by union leaders to run for a transit board instead.

Without the unions backing, however, there was no point in trying to augment the $3,500 he had raised from family, friends and associates or in continuing to fly banners proclaiming his candidacy, he said.

But at the tail-end of the long ballot, anything is possible.

With cachet of transit administrator attached to his name on the ballot, he might have the same luck as Nancy Jewel Cross, who beat incumbent Joe Bishofberger with little more effort, Davis remembered.

Bishofberger went on to win his seat back four years ago.

Some candidates arent just tilting at windmills, however.

In the battle to fill AC Transits open Ward 3 seat, Tony Daysog, an Alameda City Council member, faces a battle with attorney Elsa Ortiz, who advises state Senate leader Don Perata on Indian gaming issues.

I would hope that most voters, at a minimum, read what the candidates have to say, particularly if it is a down-ballot race, said Daysog, who was busy putting up the remainder of his 200 lawn signs over the weekend.

Its always been my experience that people make a decision that is at some level pretty much informed, and as a candidate you try to scratch and claw to provide them as much information as possible, he said.

While Daysog is running more of a Web-based grassroots campaign, with a well-appointed home page and postings on Web bulletin boards, Ortiz said that for her first shot at public office, she needs to do some walking and knocking on doors, especially in the communities outside of Daysogs home turf. 

People are very appreciative when you go knock on their doors, she said, and, I get to hear what their concerns are.

Even with the political savvy and connections that come with working for the East Bays biggest pol, Ortiz still believes she has her work cut out for her:

Daysog has been around. His name has been out there, so Im competing against that.