State Rep. Sal Esquivel leads Democratic challenger Lynn Howe tonight after a bitter fight for a seat in the Oregon House.

State Rep. Sal Esquivel leads Democratic challenger Lynn Howe tonight after a bitter fight for a seat in the Oregon House.

Early returns released by the Jackson County clerk show Republican Esquivel with 8,916, or 57 percent of the counted votes, to Howe's 6,677, or 42.7 percent.

Esquivel, a real estate broker, has served three term in Salem. Howe, a retired nursing administrator who also challenged Esquivel in 2008, has no experience in elected office.

The race drew extra attention because of advertisements by each attacking the other.

At the other end of the county, Democrat Peter Buckley will return to his seat in the House. He got 9,534 votes, nearly 59 percent of early returns, while political newcomer Sandra Abercrombie netted 6,600 votes, or about 40.8 percent, as part of a Republican surge.

Dave Dotterer, a retired Marine colonel and Republican challenger for the Oregon Senate seat held by Alan Bates, led in early returns. However, the margin was a slim 16,882 votes, or 51.9 percent, to 15,606 votes, or nearly 48 percent. The clerk's office said some of the last ballots received were from Ashland, where Bates, a physician who was elected to the House in 2000 and the state Senate in 2004, had launched his political career.

-- Anita Burke