Devon Mathis, California Assembly, 26th District candidate, left, and his wife Aubrey, watch the results come in Tuesday evening at the Veterans Memorial Building in Visalia.(Photo: Steve R. Fujimoto)
In a night that saw incumbents in state and federal races representing parts of Tulare County go to bed with big leads in Tuesday’s general election, the most heated race involved two California Assembly candidates, neither one an incumbent.
By 11 p.m., with votes from nearly 23 of the precincts in three counties counted, Republican Devon Mathis led the race for the 26th Assembly seat with 56.6 percent of the votes, while fellow Republican Rudy Mendoza lagged behind with 43.4 percent.
Among just Tulare County voters, Mathis had 53.9 percent of the votes.
After polls in the state closed at 8 p.m., the first vote count — absentee ballots submitted before Tuesday’s election — showed Mathis with more than half the votes.
Mathis kept that lead as votes from polling sites were counted through the night and were released by election offices in Tulare, Inyo and Kern counties.
“I’m hopeful the hard work’s paid off, but I’m a military man. It’s not over ’til it’s over,” Mathis said late Tuesday evening.
Mendoza declined to speak with the Times-Delta/Advance-Register after the first poll count numbers were released Tuesday night.
Mathis served 12 years in the Army National Guard, but wounds suffered from a roadside bomb in Iraq forced him to separate from the military. He has since become an unpaid veterans advocate.
Though he stopped short of declaring a win in the race, Mathis’ lead came as a surprise to many, as his opponent, Woodlake Mayor Rudy Mendoza, not only had the support his the current 26th Assemblywoman, Connie Conway, R-Tulare, but also his former boss, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia.
Nunes ran for re-election Tuesday, and he ended the night leading his his opponent, Democrat Suzanna “Sam” Aguilera-Marrero, with nearly three quarters of the votes in his race.
For his part, Mathis said some people tried to sell Mendoza and Nunes as a “package deal,” but some voters told him that while they liked Nunes, they didn’t care for Mendoza.
He added that well before the June primary, many people saw Mendoza as the winner of this race even before he and other candidates had gotten involved.
“Everybody bet on Mr. Mendoza before everybody was in the race,” Mathis said.
Mathis believed his lead is proof that his message of “people over politics” resonated with voters, he said.
“I think that people are tired of politicians pushing the party instead of looking after them,” said Mathis, who reiterated Tuesday night his statements earlier in the campaign that he was willing to work across party lines in Sacramento.
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