Wednesday update: With all precincts reporting, Jim Patterson was still maintaining a 10-percentage point lead over Bob Whalen.
Former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson used his continuing popularity and high name identification to overcome a fundraising disadvantage to Clovis Council Member Bob Whalen and appeared on his way to winning the 23rd Assembly District.
With almost two-thirds of precincts reporting, Patterson had almost 55% of the vote to Whalen's 45%. If Patterson can continue to hold the lead, it will be his first time holding public office since he termed out as mayor in 2001.
"You have to count all of the votes, but I do think the trend lines look good," Patterson said. "We feel really good. I feel really good. There's a lot of optimism here, even though President Obama won re-election."
Whalen, on the other hand, was not optimistic.
"I'm not holding out a great deal of hope that things are going to turn around," he said Tuesday evening.
Whalen talked with Patterson but did not officially concede, preferring to wait until he saw more votes counted.
The 23rd District includes the eastern half of Fresno County and a chunk of sparsely populated High Sierra country in Tulare County. The seat came open because Fresno Republican Linda Halderman declined to seek a second term.
It became closely watched because Patterson and Whalen -- both conservative Republicans -- finished one-two in a five-person June primary that included one Democrat and four from the GOP.
Under the state's new primary rules, the top two vote-getters, regardless of political party, advance to the general election. Patterson -- who is a dozen years removed from office -- won 39.4% of the primary vote, with Whalen at 25.5%.
One of the big questions was which candidate would be able to win votes from the 86,000 registered Democrats, while not alienating the 110,000 Republicans. That answer may never be known.
But one thing appeared obvious: Whalen's fundraising advantage wasn't enough to win the election.
In the most recent campaign finance reports -- the final full reports before the election -- Whalen had raised almost $366,000 this year, while Patterson was at $201,588.
Whalen also ruled the latest reporting period, which covers the first three weeks of October, raising $47,151 to Patterson's $19,175.
But though Patterson had not held office in more than a decade, he never was completely out of the public eye.
He made two unsuccessful congressional runs. In 2002, he lost in the Republican primary to now-Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare. And in 2010, he again lost in the primary to Rep. Jeff Denham.
Patterson also spent time on KMJ radio and he purchased KGED (AM 1680) -- in partnership with pastor Jim Franklin and retired Judge Annette LaRue -- from Al Perez.
In other competitive local Assembly races:
With two-thirds of precincts reporting, Madera County Supervisor Frank Bigelow had 53% of the vote to Calaveras County businessman Rico Oller's 47% in the 5th Assembly District.
As with the 23rd District, the race was closely watched because both Bigelow and Oller are Republicans.
Oller finished first in the June primary with 34% of the vote to Bigelow's 29%.
But Bigelow raised a huge amount of cash -- almost $640,000 this year. Oller, in the meantime, has raised around $345,000, but $100,000 of that is a loan to himself.
Bigelow was also aided by a $300,000 independent expenditure by a group that counted Republican Charles Munger Jr. among its donors.
Democrat Rudy Salas had a slim lead over Republican Pedro Rios in early results in the closely watched 32nd Assembly District race.
Salas had 50.5% of the vote as of 12:42 a.m. Rios had 49.5% of the vote and trailed Salas by only a few hundred votes with just under half of the district's precincts reporting. The district covers Kings County and portions of Kern County.
Other Valley Assembly races
31st Assembly District: Incumbent Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, was leading Republican JD Bennett 62% to 38% in the district that covers portions of Fresno and Fresno County. Bennett won the right to challenge Perea by running as a write-in candidate in the June primary election.
26th Assembly District: Republican Assembly Leader Connie Conway of Tulare was beating Democrat Jonathon Louis Sosa by a 2-1 margin in the district that covers portions of Tulare, Kern and Inyo counties.