‘The returns look good’: Former LB police chief Robert Luna leads in sheriffs race

Former Long Beach police Chief Robert Luna held a solid lead today in his bid to unseat Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, but the incumbent maintained confidence he would crawl back into the contest as vote-counting continues in the coming days.

Luna jumped out front quickly when early ballot results were released from Tuesday’s election, but as updates trickled in as the evening wore on, Villanueva began making some slow gains.

But when semi-officials results were posted early Wednesday morning, Luna still had 57% of the vote, compared to 43% for Villanueva. It remained unclear how many vote-by-mail and provisional ballots remain to be counted, with an estimate expected to be released sometime Wednesday by the county Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s Office.

The next updated vote tally is not expected to be released until Friday, then every subsequent Tuesday and Friday until all ballots are counted, a process that could last until the end of the month.

“So far, the returns look good, and our campaign has a significant lead,” Luna said in a statement Wednesday. “And I believe that as more votes are counted in the days ahead, I’ll continue to maintain a lead in this race. L.A. County voted for change, and if I’m elected sheriff, I’ll bring new leadership, accountability, and effective strategies to reduce crime.”

Luna is looking to pull off a rare feat by unseating a sitting sheriff.

Villanueva’s victory four years ago over incumbent Jim McDonnell marked the first time in roughly a century that a sheriff had lost a re-election bid in the county. But now Villanueva finds himself in danger of meeting the same fate at the hands of Luna.

The sheriff expressed confidence, however, that he would make up the deficit from early balloting as vote counting continued over the coming week.

“Let’s see what the vote says,” he told KCAL9 at his Monterey Park election night party. “… I think people just want to see the things that matter to them addressed— homelessness and violent crime.”

Luna, speaking to his supports in Long Beach Tuesday night, noted that the vote-counting will take a long time, but said he feels good about the direction of the numbers.

“As I have met so many people throughout this great county, there was one thing that was very obvious to me … people were talking about the need for change,” Luna said.

He said that as sheriff, he will be “accountable at the end of the day,” and will work to ensure “integrity” in the department.

The candidates ran a spirited campaign, with Luna attacking the incumbent over his torrid relationship with the county Board of Supervisors and accusing him of ignoring the issue of deputy gangs within the department.

Villanueva has deflected such criticism, saying his battles with the board show he is a fierce defender of the department and its deputies, and insisting that he has gone to great lengths to attack and ban alleged deputy cliques in the agency.

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