Lt. Jeff Dirkse, the presumed favorite for sheriff in Stanislaus County, held the lead early Wednesday morning with 100 percent of the precincts reporting.
Dirkse led with 53 percent to 47 percent for Sgt. Juan Alanis.
Dirkse's campaign was bolstered by support from incumbent Adam Christianson, the county''s elected sheriff for 12 years. Alanis claimed that what the department needed was a new direction and a return to community policing.
"I think with the numbers, we are feeling pretty confident," Dirkse said after initial returns came in Tuesday night from the primary election.
He said at forums during the campaign there were clear differences between him and Alanis. "I would hope the voters looked at my leadership experience and the work our department has done and what we will continue to do. I think that is where they landed," Dirkse said.
Alanis could not be reached Tuesday night.
Dirkse is the chief of police services in Patterson, a city that contracts with the Sheriff's Department. Part of his leadership background was as a company commander over 120 soldiers in Iraq.
The West Point graduate has worked for the Sheriff's Department since 2007 as a patrol deputy, rural crimes detective, internal affairs sergeant and lieutenant.
Alanis, a sergeant in Waterford and Hughson, ran an energetic campaign, walking precincts, making appeals to gun owners and promising to bring community cops back to neighborhoods.
Dirkse had $211,500 in expenditures by May 19 and collected $30,000 in additional campaign cash the last days of the campaign. Alanis raised almost $100,000 for mailers, internet promotions and radio spots.
The two campaigns revealed divisions in the Sheriff's Department, with Dirkse supported by operational and patrol deputies and custodial staff backing Alanis.
There was plenty to keep people interested in the campaigns.
Dirkse was criticized for receiving the blessing of a prominent Modesto pastor, while Alanis claimed some allegiance to the Constitutional Sheriff movement, though he never articulated his views on the movement. The underdog also had support from people on the political left and won the endorsement of the Republican Central Committee.
Alanis promised to let adults with concealed carry permits to list up to five handguns on the permit. Dirkse said it was not a priority for him — the current three guns was enough.
Dirkse said he will work to unify the Sheriff's Department. "I am confident that our department will be united and move forward to serve the people of Stanislaus County," he said.