SACRAMENTO (AP) — The contest for a southern San Joaquin Valley state Senate seat might be headed to a runoff after the vote margin narrowed Friday.
Democratic candidate Leticia Perez had conceded the 16th Senate District race to Republican Andy Vidak after Tuesday's special election. Her campaign and the Senate's Democratic leadership said Vidak had won an outright majority to avoid a runoff.
But updated vote totals show Vidak with 49.8 percent of the vote. If that trend holds, he and Perez will have a July 23 special runoff election.
About 300 ballots remain to be counted in the district, which includes all or parts of Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties.
Perez backed off her earlier concession and predicted in a statement that the race will go to a runoff.
"We're not going to declare anything until all the votes are counted, and there are still votes out," said Jason Kinney, a political consultant for Senate Democrats. "But we're very optimistic about our chances for a runoff."
Perez, a Kern County supervisor from Bakersfield, stands a much better chance in a special general election because Democrats have a significant voter registration edge. They have about 51 percent compared to Republicans' make up 31 percent, while nearly 13 percent of voters have no party preference.
Perez and three other left-leaning candidates split the Democratic vote in this week's five-way special primary election.
Vidak's campaign did not return messages seeking comment. The cherry farmer from Hanford found himself in a similar position in 2010, when he narrowly lost a congressional race to Democratic Rep. Jim Costa.
The winner will replace Democrat Michael Rubio of Bakersfield, who resigned in February to work for Chevron Corp.