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Esquivel tops Howe in bitter race

Rep. Sal Esquivel claimed a landslide victory as election results showed the Medford Republican with a 14-percentage point lead over his opponent Lynn Howe in a bitterly fought campaign for the Oregon House.

"I think she lost this race when she went negative," Esquivel said. "The negativism solidified the base and the base showed up."

At 10 p.m., election results showed Esquivel with 57 percent of the vote to Howe's 43 percent.

Howe, a Medford Democrat, wasn't conceding until more results came in.

"It's too soon to say," she said. "We're going to see what happens through the night."

As of 10 p.m. 17,000 votes had been counted. Howe said she thought 24,000 votes would ultimately be counted in House District 6.

She said she would be prepared to call the race today after more votes were tallied.

The Howe/Esquivel race went negative when the Howe campaign sent out a mailer falsely claiming Esquivel supported a sales tax on food. Howe also attacked Esquivel for failing to pay $13,000 in back taxes on a Medford investment property.

Esquivel, who is in his third term, noted that his victory this time is almost double the percentage he received the last time he ran against Howe, in 2008.

"We told the truth and we shall prevail," he said.

He attributed the good showing directly to Howe's going negative.

"It turned against her," he said. "I think we ran a good campaign — obviously."

Howe disputed Esquivel's criticism.

"That's his analysis," she said.

With more votes left to tally, Howe said it was premature to declare the merits of any strategy.

Esquivel said the large number of Republican victories across the nation are a clear message from voters.

"They wanted to make sure about our efforts to attract jobs and to make sure government is living within its means," he said. "We don't tax businesses and individuals during a recession."

The Howe campaign outspent Esquivel, fueled by $180,000 from Future PAC, a political action committee run by House leaders.

Howe received $225,000 for her campaign war chest compared to Esquivel's $160,000.

Esquivel's largest contributor was Promote Oregon Leadership PAC, a committee of House Republicans, with a donation of $37,500, followed by $12,000 from Oregon Realtors PAC.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or e-mail dmann@mailtribune.com.

State Representative Sal Esquivel addresses the Republicans watching the election results at the Red Lion motel. Bob Pennell / Mail Tribune photos - Bob Pennell