Jubilant Republicans rejoiced as underdog Dave Dotterrer took the lead in early voting results against Sen. Alan Bates Tuesday.

Jubilant Republicans rejoiced as underdog Dave Dotterrer took the lead in early voting results against Sen. Alan Bates Tuesday.

"It has been a heck of a ride," Dotterrer, an Ashland resident, said to almost 200 Republicans gathered at the Red Lion Hotel in Medford.

The mood was decidedly more somber for Democrats a few blocks away at Red Rock Italian Eatery as Bates fought to hold onto his seat.

Bates, a Medford resident, had 49 percent of the votes (17,439) to Dotterrer's 51 percent (18,165) as of 10 p.m. Only 726 votes separated the two candidates.

"It's too close to call," Bates said.

Dotterrer also said he would wait until there was a clearer indication of the results before claiming victory.

"It's too close to call for me, too," he said. "You can't call a win in the third quarter."

A sizeable number of votes had not been calculated, according to Dotterrer's read of the returns.

Senate District 3 covers Democratic strongholds such as Ashland, but also includes Jacksonville and Medford, which have Republican majorities. Win, lose or draw, Dotterrer said the campaign has exceeded his expectations.

"I came in tonight with no idea which way the race was going to break," said Dotterrer, who knocked on 9,100 doors during his campaign. "I feel very good about the campaign I ran."

Bates paid a visit to the Republican party before the election results came in to shake the hand of his opponent.

He didn't like the negative tone of campaign literature mailed out by his opponent during the past month.

"We made a decision six weeks ago not to go negative," he said. "The other side sent out half truths and lies when they decided to go negative."

Doug Breidenthal, chairman of the Jackson County Republican Central Committee, said the results from elections across the country were a triumphant victory for Republicans.

Pointing at Dotterrer, Breidenthal said, "Good job. It looks like we're going to have a new senator in Southern Oregon."

Breidenthal's comments were made based on early returns.

While Republicans celebrated their victories, they also pointed out that their mood was decidedly different in 2008, when they suffered major losses.

"The pendulum always swings one way or another," said Tiny Robertson, former chairman of the Jackson County Republican Central Committee.

Allen Hallmark, chairman of the Jackson County Democratic Central Committee, said it was a difficult night for Democrats.

"Senator Bates is running a very tough battle against his opponent," he said.

The Bates/Dotterrer race is one of the most expensive in Southern Oregon, with both candidates amassing almost $700,000 total in contributions.

Dotterrer received the most at almost $350,000, pulling in more than $200,000 in cash and in-kind contributions from The Leadership Fund, a political action committee of Senate Republicans.

Bates' contributions are almost $310,000, with significant donations from health-related groups. The Oregon Health Association gave him more than $50,000 in cash and in-kind contributions.

Bates survived a 2004 race against Medford Republican Jim Wright that also went negative.

Damian Mann is a reporter at the Mail Tribune. Reach him at 541-776-4476, or e-mail dmann@mailtribune.com.