Karen Goh, the energetic, quick-talking nonprofit CEO, widened her lead over former homebuilder Kyle Carter in the race for Bakersfield mayor early Wednesday.
Wednesday morning, Goh had expanded her lead to 51.2 percent to 48.4 percent, or 2,246 votes. It was unclear how many uncounted ballots were left to tally.
In the primary, Carter pulled ahead on election night and Goh took longer to snatch first place with a lead of less than two percentage points.
If her lead holds or increases, Goh, whose parents emigrated in 1962 to lead what is now the Garden Community Church, would be Bakersfield's first Chinese-American mayor and its second female mayor ever. She'd follow in the footsteps of Mary K. Shell, who went on to become a county supervisor.
Goh, 61, would be going the opposite way, having been an appointed Kern County supervisor from 2010-2012.
Like the former CEO of Kyle Carter Homes, Goh has said if elected she'd work to bring more jobs to Bakersfield.
“I’ll be bringing business leaders together as a first step … to listen to their ideas and to formulate specific plans. What we know is jobs aren’t created by government and that really is the role of business,” Goh said on Tuesday night. At the time, only vote-by-mail and early ballots had been counted — and Carter was ahead by 169 votes.
The leader of Garden Pathways said she was “very grateful for the support of the people and as always I will work hard to serve our community and move ahead with the goals i set forth." Garden Pathways provides mentoring and education to children and adults.
Carter, whose companies built an estimated 5,000 houses in Bakersfield, will likely still claim the honor of running the most expensive race ever for the largely figurehead post, out-raising and out-spending Goh by about 31 percent.
Like Goh, Carter has said if elected he’ll roll up his sleeves and get to work bringing more jobs to Bakersfield.
“Yeah, jobs and getting our freeways cleaned up, the same thing we’ve been talking about,” Carter said early Tuesday evening, calling the contest thus far a “squeaker” roughly an hour before it flipped.
He pointed to the sales of two downtown buildings now in escrow and destined for affordable housing — both of which he helped guide — as potential job generators.
"This is not me doing it. This is me sharing my ideas," Carter said Monday.
Goh and Carter had emerged the top-two finishers in a wild and wooly June primary that drew a record 25 candidates. Their general election runoff was a far tamer affair, with both playing it safe by emphasizing their own positives.
Still, things got expensive.
Goh estimated her campaign would raise and spend about $275,000, most of that community contributions. Her big backers included House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee.
Carter, whose company Kyle Carter Homes topped $100 million in annual revenue before it was sold, has said he'll likely wind up running a $400,000 campaign. That's roughly $135,000 in contributions and at least $270,000 in loans to himself.
His support included a television ad from former Congressman Bill Thomas.
Bakersfield's mayor earns $24,000 a year representing the city at major events like groundbreakings and ribbon-cuttings. He or she leads meetings of the Bakersfield City Council but votes only to break a tie.
While quiet by Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump standards, the race did generate some intrigue.
A group called Bakersfield Voices recently attacked Carter for his alleged stance on the disabled and for allegedly sexist remarks — but Goh disavowed any connection.
Over the weekend, a series of Youtube attack ads accused Goh of lying and questioning her Republican credentials, and it was Carter's turn to distance himself.
Also this weekend, a flurry of Carter robocalls angered the Kern County Republican Party, which sent him a cease-and-desist letter because it had actually endorsed Goh.
Carter denied that he'd claimed to have the local GOP's backing.