Challenger Freman Hendrix (search) and first-term Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (search) were the top two finishers in the city's nonpartisan mayoral primary Tuesday, setting up a two-man contest in the Nov. 8 general election that decides who leads the city over the next four years.

With 325 of the city's 720 precincts reporting, or 45 percent, Hendrix had 45 percent, or 30,018 votes. Kilpatrick had 34 percent or 22,300, City Councilwoman Sharon McPhail had 12 percent, or 7,743, and state Sen. Hansen Clarke (search) had 8 percent, or 5,519. There were eight other hopefuls running Tuesday.

The winner in November will lead a city with a multimillion-dollar budget deficit and a severe population decline.

Polls leading up to the election showed Hendrix leading over Kilpatrick in both the primary and in a two-way race. But experts said Kilpatrick's vote percentage Tuesday likely would be important in determining how much money he can raise leading up to the November contest, with the money flow likely to slow if he was bested by Hendrix.

Hendrix had raised about $1.5 million this year as of late July, tripling the amount the mayor brought in during the same period.

Kilpatrick, the stylish 6-foot-4 former college football player, state legislator and lawyer with a diamond earring, was heralded as the city's next great hope when he was elected four years ago at age 31.

Now he finds himself in the political fight of his life after a first term that included a $300 million budget deficit, hundreds of layoffs, scrutiny over his use of a city credit card and city lease of a luxury SUV for his family.

Hendrix is a career civil servant and Navy man who was deputy to former Mayor Dennis Archer and is seen as a less flashy alternative to Kilpatrick.

The 54-year-old Hendrix has campaigned on themes like residents' obligations to maintain their property, the importance of cooperating with the suburbs and the federal government's obligation to fund Head Start.

Kilpatrick has said that the Archer administration — and by extension Hendrix — had the chance to fix many of the city's problems but didn't, and left him to clean up messes, including the bus system, police and public housing, that were worse than he expected coming into office.

Kilpatrick ran last time on a determination to turn the city around. Some say he's made a good start on an impossibly tough assignment.

In a half-century, the city has lost about half its population. With it went business and tax bases, leaving an urban core of the less-mobile who were dependent on city services but unable to support them.

The grass in parks gets cut now on a more-or-less regular basis and the streets usually get plowed. Kilpatrick launched new projects to eliminate or fix junk buildings and jump-started a riverfront development plan. Several big companies have established offices in the city instead of the suburbs.

Crime is down, and the city is proud of itself for winning major sports events like the 2006 Super Bowl and last month's baseball All-Star game.