Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson held a commanding lead early today, but his challenger said he wasn't planning to concede the election just yet.
Christianson had 21,259, or 56.5 percent, with 85 percent of precincts counted in the sheriff's race. Turlock police Capt. Rob Jackson followed with 16,263 votes, or 43.2 percent.
"We got a lot of positive feedback in our walks through the community," said Christianson, who was at his election night party at Sky Trek Aviation in Modesto. "We were pretty confident that the people were satisfied with the Sheriff's Department and its service to the community."
Jackson, who worked for the Sheriff's Department for nearly 20 years, wasn't ready to give up his hopes of returning to lead the department.
"It's not over yet," said Jackson, who was with his supporters at a campaign appreciation dinner at a northeast Modesto home.
The debate between Christianson and Jackson centered on who can best lead the department through tight times.
Budget cuts for the next fiscal year will slash $6.4 million in spending, require 40 layoffs, close three of four barracks at the low- security Honor Farm and eliminate 16 vacant positions.
"Even though we are celebrating the outcome to this election, there are still employees who are going to be laid off," Christianson said. "I'm still very sensitive to that."
During the campaign, Christianson directed attention to a decline in the crime rate during his four years in office, saying it was an example of his administration's progress.
Jackson campaigned to unify what he called a divided department and correct mistakes made by Christianson's administration. He said he was disappointed with the outcome and the low voter turnout.
"Going into this, I knew taking on an incumbent was going to be tough and we would have to get our message across," Jackson said. "Looking at the numbers so far, it doesn't look like we got that message to everyone."
Thousands of ballots were yet to be counted.
County Clerk Lee Lundrigan said an election such as Tuesday's typically draws out about 30 percent to 40 percent of voters. In that case, anywhere from 67,000 to 90,000 ballots would be counted in Stanislaus County.
Late Tuesday, Lundrigan had counted about 40,909 ballots. She has 14,000 mail-in ballots that could take until Saturday to count.
The Stanislaus Sworn Deputies Association, which represents about 170 patrol deputies, voted to endorse Jackson. The Stanislaus County Custodial Deputy Sheriff's Association, which represents about 220 deputies who work at jail facilities, voted to endorse Christianson.
Christianson said this election was not as divisive as the race against Mark Puthuff that brought him to office four years ago.
"I'll do the same thing I did last time," Christianson said. "I'll embrace everybody and get back to work."
It was a tough election year for Christianson, whose department was the focus of legal challenges from 10 current and former female employees.
Christianson became involved in another controversial issue in April, when he stunned a standing-room-only crowd by signing a pledge suggesting he'll grant more concealed weapons permits so residents can protect themselves.
Soon after, Jackson said the sheriff flip-flopped on his policy for granting concealed weapons permits in an attempt to win votes among firearms advocates.
Jackson said he will remain at the Turlock Police Department if he loses.
"If Adam wins, I wish him all the best," Jackson said. "I hope this is something we can both learn from."
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2394.