Republican Johnny Tacherra is in Washington, D.C. at the orientation for new members of Congress, but he’s no longer in the lead for the 16th Congressional District seat.
Fresno County updated its vote count Wednesday afternoon, and incumbent Fresno Democrat Jim Costa — behind in his reelection bid since election night more than a week ago — took a slim, 86-vote lead over Tacherra.
But the race is far from over because several thousand mostly provisional ballots remain to be counted in the district, which includes all of Merced County and parts of Madera and Fresno counties.
In other close Fresno County races, Lisa Gamoian extended her lead over Rachel Hill in a contentious and expensive Fresno County Superior Court judge’s race, and Esmeralda Soria added to her lead over Cary Catalano in the District 1 seat on the Fresno City Council.
Catalano — who was ahead by 20 votes on election night — all but conceded to Soria on Wednesday inside the Fresno County Election’s Office. Soria now has a 369-vote lead, which is 51.7% of the vote to Catalano’s 48%. In the judge’s race, Gamoian added another 1,935 votes to her lead over Hill, which now stands at nearly 4,600 votes. In percentage terms, Gamoian has 51.4% to Hill’s 48.1%.
With Wednesday’s update, Fresno County officials finished all but 600 of the final 10,300 mail ballots from the Nov. 4 election. In addition, around 10,100 provisional ballots remain to be counted. After the polls closed Tuesday night, the Fresno County elections officials had more than 42,600 absentee and provisional ballots to count.
As of now, Fresno County’s voter turnout is at 36.7%, a percentage that will grow as more votes are counted but still is on track to be the lowest in recent memory. In 2002, it was 47.3%.
16th Congressional District
While the Fresno City Council and judge’s races seem all but over, the Costa-Tacherra contest will have to wait for further vote counting.
Headed into Wednesday, Tacherra had a 741-vote lead, but the Fresno County update added 1,708 votes to Costa’s total. Tacherra added just 881 votes. The difference pushed Costa from the 741-vote deficit to the 86-vote lead.
Both Merced and Madera County officials have said they will not update their count again until they finish tallying their remaining provisional ballots, which will likely be Friday or early next week. In Merced County, 1,505 provisional ballots remain to be counted, and in Madera County, it is 722. In Fresno County, it is unknown how many of the 600 remaining mail ballots and 10,100 provisional ballots are from the 16th Congressional District.
Tuesday’s update showed yet again that Fresno County is Costa’s political heart. He is winning more than 63% of the Fresno County vote. Tacherra is winning around two-thirds of Madera County’s vote, and 55% of the Merced County vote. If the current voting trends hold, a narrow Costa victory is likely, political watchers said.
Fresno County will next update on Friday afternoon.
Congress was back in session on Wednesday. Costa remained in Fresno to attend the funeral Friday for former Congressman John Krebs. He cheered the latest update.
“We are encouraged by the vote count that was released today,” he said in a statement. “There are still thousands of ballots that need to be counted over the next week. As I have said before, I put my trust and faith in the voters of our Valley. When all the votes are tallied, we look forward to continuing to fight for our Valley families in Washington, D.C.”
Tacherra could not be reached for comment.
Costa’s latest race has much the same feel as in 2010, when he was behind now-state Sen. Andy Vidak by an election night 1,823-vote deficit that turned into a 3,031-vote victory after all the mail and provisional ballots were counted. For either Costa or Tacherra in this race, however, the victory margin will likely be much smaller.
Fresno City Council
Both Soria and Catalano were at the Fresno County Clerk’s Office Wednesday afternoon. Each grabbed a report of the updated count. Catalano needed only seconds to do the math and see the future. Votes will be counted for days to come, but Catalano wasted no time shaking Soria’s hand and offering his support to move Fresno forward.
Call it a gracious but, as yet, qualified concession.
Catalano said the latest count is “the writing on the wall of this race. The residents of District 1 have a right to realize who their next council member is going to be. There are very few ballots left in this race. I’m excited to get back to work for our community, as I’ve always done, and celebrate the fact that the election process is over.”
Body language spoke volumes as the candidates awaited the count at the clerk’s office. Soria had no trouble finding a smile. She sat with the confidence of someone who knew her destiny in January. Catalano had the look of someone silently rehearsing an unpleasant speech.
Soria said she was pleased, but emphasized it’s not over till it’s over.
“There are still votes to be counted,” Soria said. “I’m a strong believer that every single vote counts.”
But such humility didn’t make sense on this day, not after Catalano a minute earlier had fallen on his sword before her as media cameras whirred and clicked.
“I’m confident that the results will stay where they are,” Soria said.
Big issues await the City Council next year, she said. Public safety is getting a run for its money as Fresno’s No. 1 policy worry. The drought is a worry, as well.
First, though, there is a swearing-in ceremony in January in the Council Chamber.
“This has been a journey full of support from my family, my friends and the community,” Soria said. “I look forward to having everyone there.”
Fresno County Superior Court Judge
In the Fresno County Superior Court judge race, Gamoian now leads Hill by 4,597 votes, according to new numbers released Wednesday by the Elections Office. Last Friday, Gamoian’s lead was 3,602 votes.
Gamoian and Hill are battling to replace Judge Robert Oliver, who is retiring from the Superior Court bench after nearly 20 years. The term is for six years. The position pays about $178,000 a year.
Together, they turned the county’s lone judicial race into one of the costliest, nastiest and most hard-fought ever. Total spending by Hill and Gamoian will likely top $1 million, observers say.
Hill would need to win about 77.4% of the remaining uncounted ballots to overtake Gamoian.
Hill has said that she left a message for Gamoian on Friday night. And in a statement, Hill said, “I will continue to be active in the legal community and am excited to continue to pursue opportunities in public service.”