At 2 a.m., 32nd Assembly District representative Rudy Salas trailed challenger Justin Mendes, a Hanford Republican, by a scant 48 votes with just four dozen precincts left to be counted.

Then the clock struck 2:02 a.m. and Salas had a victory of just over 2,000 votes.

They'd been nip-and-tuck since their exhibition-game face-off back in June: Could the Democratic incumbent from Bakersfield hold off Mendes? Salas defeated Mendes in the June primary by a scant few dozen votes in the race for the 32nd Assembly District.

The answer: Yes he can. Unofficially, anyway.

Salas finished with 52.5 percent of the vote to Mendes' 47.5, which was actually one of the biggest leads of the night for either man.

Salas has served six years in office. He voted against the gas tax, a move that angered the Democratic leadership. As a result, he was removed from his chairmanship of the committee that oversees professional licensing across the state.

Salas has made something of a name for himself fighting Valley Fever, a chronic problem in the southern valley. He introducing several bills targeting better treatment and he led the charge to secure $8 million in funding to beat the disease.

Mendes, who has served as the mayor of Hanford and was a top aide to Congressman David Valadao, has made an issue out of an unsatisfactory phone call to an allegedly dismissive Salas staffer about a registered sex offender living next door to his children's daycare provider. Salas subsequently introduced a bill addressing the proximity to day care issue.

Mendes has criticized Salas' support of the cap-and-trade bill and his vote for the sanctuary state law. But both agree, to a substantial degree, on matters like water quality and reliability, education and business regulation.

As the outcome of the race remained uncertain Tuesday night, the difference between the two candidates seemed nearly as close at the vote count.

Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.

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