Republican Andy Vidak had a commanding lead Tuesday night in the brutally contentious battle for the 16th Senate District seat.
But his victory wasn't quite certain. Yet.
Final election night results came in just before midnight, giving the Hanford cherry farmer 54.03 percent of the vote in his closely watched race against Bakersfield Democrat Leticia Perez. Vidak's lead was holding Wednesday morning.
Perez had 45.97 percent, and sat a distant 5,833 votes behind Vidak.
But there are thousands of votes still waiting to be counted. Kern County reported that 2,345 votes remained to count Tuesday night. Kings County had 185 uncounted ballots.
How many remained in Fresno and Tulare Count was not certain.
Vidak, contacted at his ranch near Hanford at about 10:20 p.m., said he was "cautiously optimistic, as always."
He was preparing for a long night, he said, but trying to focus on something other than the numbers.
"The initial returns from all four counties were good for us," he said. But "I haven't even been looking at the numbers, I just kind of listen to what they tell me."
Instead he was focused on his guests.
"I've got three or four hundred people here and I'm just trying to get around to them all to shake their hand and say, 'Thank you,'" Vidak said.
He wouldn't say whether he would claim victory, or when.
The mood at Perez's election night party, at the Carpenters Local 743 union hall in downtown Bakersfield, was upbeat. The candidate reminded a reporter that the night was young.
"Very young. Very young, and we are extremely optimistic. Every ballot will be counted, every vote will be counted, and voters' voices will be heard," Perez said, adding, "I don't think it'll be tonight. It'll probably be Thursday or Friday."
While final results showed Perez with a tough route forward, her campaign manager Trent Hager said it’s way too soon to count her out.
“No one has any numbers" on how many vote-by-mail and provisional ballots remain to be counted, Hager said. “The registrars will badge those and count ‘em tomorrow.”
Perez conceded the day after the May 21 primary, only to have late counts tip the race in her favor. Hager said that won't happen this time.
“We learned our lesson in round one, and we saw it again in Measure G in Fresno,” Hager said of the importance of not calling a race too early.
Vidak's election night numbers have looked great before. Twice.
In a 2010 run for Congress, Vidak was leading incumbent Jim Costa by about 2,000 votes at the end of election night.
And at the end of election night in the 16th Senate District primary on May 21, he held 51.9 percent of the vote -- and appeared to have won the seat outright in a field of five candidates.
But both times his victory slipped away from him in the days that followed.
Thousands of uncounted ballots in Democratic sections of Kern and Fresno counties went powerfully against him in both contests. Vidak's vote advantage over Perez and the three other candidates shrunk by 1,800 votes as some 7,000 outstanding ballots -- most of them in Kern and Fresno -- were counted.
History may very well repeat itself.
Thousands of votes were expected to remain uncounted in the race Wednesday morning. If there are enough of them, and they swing hard enough toward Perez, she could overtake Vidak and win.
But it appeared to be an uphill battle given Vidak's strong showing Tuesday.
Voting trends on election night largely mirrored the May 21 primary vote with Vidak leaping out to an early lead and later results slowly chipping away at that advantage.
But Perez needed to do better Tuesday than she did in the primary.
In May she succeeded by getting Vidak under 50 percent of the vote. But she didn't beat him.
In Tuesday's general election, Perez needed to bring in more votes than he did. And that is a higher bar for her to reach.
Eyes up and down the state have been on the race because if Vidak wins, Democrats' current two-thirds super-majority control of the state Senate could be vulnerable in next year's elections.
The super-majority allows Democrats to pass a budget and tax increases without Republican votes.
Those high stakes turned the race brutal -- and expensive. Joining the candidates in writing big checks were special interests: Realtors, Republican groups and business people on the Vidak side and unions and Democratic organizations on the Perez side.
The race spawned a number of complaints to the California Fair Political Practices Commission as the campaigns and their supporters tried to keep the other side honest -- and, probably, tarnish the other guys' image.
National news outlets and state Republican leaders have touted Vidak -- who came within 115 votes of winning the heavily Democratic 16th District in May -- as the future template for a GOP resurgence in California, where Democrats control every major statewide office and enjoy super-majorities in both legislative houses.
Campaign observers believed Vidak had his best shot at taking the seat by winning it outright in the five-candidate primary -- before Perez had gathered enough name recognition and support to challenge him.
And for a couple days, at least, it looked like Vidak had done just that.
Vidak had 51.9 percent of the vote -- surpassing the 50-percent-plus-one-vote threshold needed to avoid a runoff -- on election night. Perez conceded and called Vidak to congratulate him the next morning.
Observers blamed the loss of a Democratic seat on Rubio, whose surprise resignation to take a governmental affairs job with Chevron triggered the special election and forced his party to hunt for an able replacement.
But as the week progressed and some 7,000 outstanding ballots were counted, Vidak's grip on the majority of votes slipped.
The morning of Friday, May 24, The Californian reported there was a chance Vidak's apparent victory might not hold. Later that day, his vote totals indeed fell below 50 percent, to 49.8 percent. Perez had 43.9 percent.
That triggered Tuesday's general election.