Madera County Supervisor Frank Bigelow was beating Calaveras County businessman Rico Oller in the race Tuesday for the newly-drawn State Assembly District 5, preliminary election returns showed.
As of 12:15 a.m., with 372 of 446 voter precincts counted, the California Secretary of State's Office reported Bigelow was leading with 52.7 percent of votes, to Oller's 47.3 percent.
Bigelow wasn't ready to declare victory Tuesday night.
"We're certainly pleased with the early returns," he said. "But we're still going to have to wait awhile to see the final numbers."
Oller could not be reached for comment.
The newly-drawn State Assembly District includes Tuolumne and Calaveras counties as well as Alpine, Amador, Madera, Mariposa and Mono. Portions of El Dorado and Placer counties are also included.
While district voters overall leaned toward Bigelow, Oller commanded a majority of votes in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties.
Final unofficial results showed Oller led Bigelow with about 55.9 percent of votes in Tuolumne County, and about 59.8 percent in Calaveras County.
Bigelow - vice president of Ponderosa Telephone Co., a cattle rancher, and a 12-year member of the Madera County Board of Supervisors - is taking his first stab at a state office.
Oller, who owns a building material company, was seeking to re-enter public life, having served four years in the Assembly, from 1996 to 2000, and four in the state Senate.
It would be the final two-year term Oller could serve in the Assembly due to term limits, but he would be eligible for another stint in the Senate.
The race is the first of its kind in the district to feature two Republicans in a run off.
That was the result of the state's new open-primary system, in which the top two vote-getters of any party head to the general election.
The new system saw more money being poured into the races around the state featuring two candidates of the same party, in areas traditionally considered either Democratic or GOP strongholds.
Bigelow raised more than $550,000 and Oller roughly $315,000.
"I do want to thank my supporters who worked hard on my campaign for State Assembly," Bigelow said.
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