Modesto City Council candidate Dave Lopez has a lead for the first time in his eight-year quest to win elected office.
"I've never been in the lead before, so we feel pretty strong," said the five-time candidate.
His 5.5 percentage-point edge over attorney Robert Farrace doesn't guarantee him a seat, though.
They will face off again in a Dec. 11 runoff because neither gained more than 50 percent of the vote.
Lopez and Farrace are running for a seat being vacated by Councilman Bob Dunbar.
First-time candidates Brent Maynor, 26, an electrician, and Robert Stanford, 41, a community activist, were competing for the same seat, although neither had more than 16 percent of the vote.
Their race was the most contested in a largely lackluster election year for Modesto council races.
Mayor Jim Ridenour and Councilman Garrad Marsh each were unopposed in re-election bids. Ridenour emerged from a four-way race to unseat Carmen Sabatino four years ago.
Incumbent Councilman Brad Hawn won re-election with two-thirds of the vote against retired businessman Tom Maher, 72.
"That's four more years of trying to keep getting the city going," said Hawn, 52, an engineer.
Lopez and Farrace approached the first stage of their campaigns with markedly different strategies.
Farrace, 43, raised nearly $20,000 and won key endorsements from Modesto's police and firefighter unions. Dunbar backed him, too.
Farrace also sent mailers describing his platform supporting public safety and asking residents to identify the biggest pothole in the city.
"We'll be out doing more of the same," Farrace said. "I'll be out meeting people trying to make sure Mr. Stanford's and Mr. Maynor's vote comes my way."
Lopez laid off fund-raising through Tuesday, but walked neighborhoods.
Lopez, an account executive, said that would change today. He plans to begin seeking contributions for the race's second round. He raised more than $19,000 when he ran two years ago.
"I feel good that the people have come out and spoken, so obviously they want me to con- tinue campaigning," he said.
Lopez, 40, began running for council seats in 1999. He lost runoff elections to Dunbar in 2003 and Councilman Will O'Bryant in 2005.
With 100 percent of the precincts reporting, Lopez brought in 39.4 percent of votes. Farrace pulled in 33.9 percent; Stanford netted 15.7 percent and Maynor brought in 10.7 percent. Thousands of absentee and provisional ballots remain to be counted. Elections officials would not give an estimate Tuesday night.
Stanford said he was pleased with the votes he collected.
"I'm happy that so many people are coming out to vote for me," he said.
Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2366.