Two incumbents in the Merced County Board of Supervisors races both led their elections, but one of them, John Pedrozo, could face a runoff if Tuesday's unofficial election results don't change.
Though some absentee votes still need to be counted, numbers have District 1 Supervisor Pedrozo leading his race with 49.2 percent of the vote, and District 2 incumbent Supervisor Hub Walsh beating his challenger, Casey Steed, with 61.2 percent of the vote.
Jim Pacheco, a sergeant with the Merced County Sheriff's Department, had 31.3 percent of the vote and is among the three candidates challenging Pedrozo for his District 1 spot on the board.
If none of the candidates gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the race will be decided during a runoff election in November between the top two vote-getters.
The election started as a gentle race between the four candidates, which also include former Livingston Mayor Daniel Varela Sr. and substitute teacher Peggi Gioletti, but it quickly shaped into a malicious two-man race with Pedrozo and Pacheco slugging it out.
Attacks on Pedrozo by Pacheco on his special district funds and the Wal-Mart distribution center prompted the incumbent to release a late set of mailers criticizing Pacheco for his arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence last year.
Pacheco said he's unenthused about all the negativity, but understands that politics can get vicious.
"It's not what I expected," he said. "I'm kind of disappointed about that."
Pedrozo echoed a similar sentiment. "It's unfortunate that it had to come to negativity," he said.
Pedrozo held his election party at Fernando's Bistro in downtown Merced on Tuesday night, and when the first results came in showing he had more than double the votes of Pacheco, a smile came to his face as he got congratulatory pats on the back from his friends and supporters.
"That's going to set the tone," he said of the results. "We've worked real hard to get to this point."
Pacheco monitored the election results with friends and family at the Pizza Factory in Le Grand. Despite the sluggish numbers, he said he's hopeful that it'll end up in a run-off election between him and Pedrozo.
"We knew we were the underdog and it was going to be a challenge," he said. "But we're still optimistic for a runoff."
The heated race overshadowed the other two supervisor hopefuls. Gioletti garnered 12.4 percent of the vote, while Varela got only 6.9 percent, according to Tuesday's results.
Unlike District 1, the District 2 supervisor's race between Walsh and Steed was less dramatic.
At a modest gathering at his mother-in-law's house, Walsh said he was "relieved and humbled" when the early numbers came in, showing he had a strong lead over Steed.
"We're hopeful that that trend will continue," he said.
Walsh said this campaign was different than when he ran four years ago, with a handful of other challengers. He and Steed both said they were glad they could keep their campaigns focused on the issues facing their constituents.
Steed, who ended with 38.2 percent of the vote in the two-man race, said he knew it would be a tough battle since Walsh has been involved in local politics for so many years, and congratulated him on his victory.
"I know Hub has the best interest of the voters in mind, it's just how we go about doing things," he said.
Steed, who also ran for the District 2 seat four years ago, said he'll have to think about whether he runs again for the leadership role.
"I'm not going to fade away," he noted.
Residents in District 4 will hold on to Supervisor Deidre Kelsey, a 17-year veteran of the board who ran unopposed this year. She ended the night with 95.8 percent of the vote.
Kelsey said there are a lot of projects she wants to keep working on during her fifth term in office, mainly stimulating the local economy and promoting healthier living.
Working with the Central California Alliance for Health and the Merced County Department of Public Health are two outlets to provide better health options for residents.
Merced County's "dangerously high" rate of obesity and diabetes both need to be addressed, Kelsey said. "We need to cut that off at the pass."
As with past elections, this election's voter turnout was low. Only 25.8 percent of voters cast their ballots.
Merced County Registrar of Voters Kent Christensen said the absentee ballots that are yet to be counted might change the final vote totals but likely won't result in any drastic changes.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.