Ben Chin, a Democrat running for mayor in Maine's second-largest city who was targeted last month with signs viewed widely viewed as racist, will face a runoff with the Republican incumbent.
The 30-year-old, who is half-Chinese, was one of five candidates for mayor in Lewiston, Maine, a city of roughly 36,000 about 35 miles north of Portland. As of early Wednesday morning, Chin had received 3,673 votes, or 44 percent, according to the local newspaper, the Sun Journal. Current Mayor Robert E. Macdonald received 3,107 votes, or 37 percent.
A total of 8,332 votes were cast in the mayoral race.
The Lewiston city charter says a mayoral runoff is held when no candidate receives a majority of all votes. The special election is scheduled to take place on Dec. 8.
Chin told NBC News Tuesday night that he was optimistic about his chances. "Let's put it this way, I would much rather be me tonight than him," he said, referring to Macdonald.
An email sent to Macdonald Tuesday night seeking comment was not returned.
Chin made national news in October when signs featuring a caricature of an Asian man, lined on top with the Communist hammer and sickle, went up on several buildings in Lewiston. They read, "Don't vote for Ho Chi Chin. Vote for more jobs not more welfare."
Joseph Dunne, the property manager of Sullivan Property Management, which owns the buildings, told the Portland Press Herald he put up the signs because Chin had labeled him a "slumlord." Chin serves as political director for Maine People's Alliance, which issued a report this summer calling Dunne and two others "three of the city's worst landlords."
After taking down the signs, Dunne later apologized in an advertisement in the Sun Journal, saying they were not meant to be racist but rather "critical of [Chin's] policies and tactics." Dunne also wrote he would "try to do a better job" as a landlord, adding, "I would never purposely make any tenant suffer to enrich myself or my family."
In October, Chin told NBC News that the signs made him think a lot about his grandfather, who emigrated from southern China at age 5, fought in World War II, and was later investigated for being a communist during the McCarthy era after a business he started grew successful.
Chin said Tuesday night that, in the end, he thought the signs were in some sense a positive force for his campaign.
"I think the impact of the signs was that all this stuff we had been saying about corporate slumlords the whole time," Chin said. "It became crystal clear to folks that this actually was a major issue for our city, because they got to see how these guys operate."