In the 16th Congressional District, Fresno attorney Brian Whelan was ahead of two other Republicans in early voting to win a spot in the November runoff against incumbent Fresno Democrat Jim Costa, who was well ahead of everyone in the primary.
With close to 47 percent of precincts reporting at 10:15 p.m., Costa had around 42 percent of the vote, with Whelan at 25.6 percent, Stanislaus County businessman Mark Garcia at 11.5 percent, Fresno County dairyman Johnny Tacherra at 10.8 percent and Madera doctor Loraine Goodwin, a Democrat, at 10.2 percent.
Whelan said he's "feeling very optimistic and hopeful" because when his votes are added with Garcia's and Tacherra's, they add up to more than Costa.
"It confirms what I've been hearing and I've been thinking," he said. "That it's time for a change and time for some new blood."
But Costa was equally pleased with his performance.
It was still early, he noted, and the most returns had been counted in Madera County, which is his weakest area. As returns come in from Fresno and Merced counties, he said, his lead over his competitors will substantially increase.
"I feel good about the early returns, and when you look at the percentage of precincts that have not been reported in Fresno and Merced counties, I've been doing quite well," he said. "I think it really shows that we're going to do quite well in November. We've just got to do the work and build on the support we have."
The challenge will be for Whelan to rise to the occasion against Costa.
National experts -- and even many Republicans -- are already saying Costa is likely to win in November, that the GOP has failed to field a "top tier" candidate in the race.
Other Republicans, however, are looking at recent history.
Just two years ago, Hanford cherry farmer Andy Vidak, a political neophyte, came from nowhere in the closing weeks of the election and almost upset Costa, when he was running in another district that stretched from Fresno south to Bakersfield.
Costa's final margin of victory: 3.6 percentage points.
The new 16th District, which will become official Jan. 1 as part of the redistricting effort following the 2010 Census, runs from Fresno north through the western half of Madera County and includes all of Merced County.