Republican Charles Cole and Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett, a Democrat, were maintaining solid leads late Tuesday night in the race for 37th District seat in the state Assembly.

If their positions hold, the two will face each other in a runoff in the fall General Election.

With about 91 percent of precincts reporting, Cole had 32.7 percent of the vote, followed by Bennett with 23.4 percent.

Cole, 22, came out of nowhere to take the top spot. He was unrefined in the several debates leading up to the contest, but the fact that he was the only Republican in the contest helped propel him to the top spot.

“They are splitting up the vote and I am just a differing opinion,” Cole said. “Anyone who doesn’t want the same opinion, they are like, ‘Hey, let’s go check out this guy and see what he has to say.’”

Cole urged people in the November election to “vote your values.”

“See what the people are saying,” Cole said. “From what I see, a lot of people who I have talked to, most of the people on that Democratic ticket, they don’t support the same values. See who you are voting for and what they are saying.”

Cole held his election night party at Persona Pizza on State Street, where he landed his first job as a teenager.

Bennett told Noozhawk that he was pleased with his election night position.

Republican Charles Cole

Republican Charles Cole came out on top in the seven-candidate contest for the 37th State Assembly District, according to preliminary election results Tuesday night.  (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

“I am cautiously optimistic and very grateful for the coalition of supporters who came together for this campaign — the Sierra Club, firefighters, teachers and grassroots SOAR supporters.”

Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo was in third place with 18.1 percent of the vote.

“We worked really hard in Ventura and Santa Barbara County,” Murillo said. “I am hoping that the late ballots favor me and I am just sorry it was such a competitive race and there were good people in it. We are just waiting it out.”

The remaining votes were split fairly evenly among four other candidates: Jonathan Abboud with 7.1 percent, Jason Dominguez, with 6.9 percent, Elsa Granados with 5.9 percent, and Stephen Blum with 5.8 percent. 

With six Democrats and one Republican running for the 37th District state Assembly seat, it was one of the most hotly contested races on the March 3 primary ballot on the Central Coast.

They are trying to fill the seat being vacated by Monique Limón, who is running for state Senate. The district includes most of Ventura County, southern Santa Barbara County and the Santa Ynez Valley.

The March primary race was wrapped in intrigue and suspense. Typically one candidate emerges as the clear front runner for the seat, which represents a district made of 46 percent Democrats, 25 percent Republican and 24 percent no party preference.

With so many Democratic candidates this cycle, the Santa Barbara and Ventura County Democratic parties were unable to endorse anyone because no single candidate gained enough votes to win the groups’ backing.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.