Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s bid for a second term will move to a November runoff election against former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna, with the pair topping a nine-candidate field in Tuesday’s election.

As of 2 a.m. Wednesday, Villanueva had 258,808 votes, or 34.38 percent, to Luna’s 184,640 votes, or 24.53 percent.

Over the past century, only one incumbent sheriff in the county has lost a re-election bid. That was four years ago, when Villanueva achieved a stunning upset of Sheriff Jim McDonnell, riding to an election victory with strong backing from reform-minded community groups and Democrats.

But over the past four years, Villanueva’s support among those groups has waned as he repeatedly clashed with the Democrat-dominated Board of Supervisors over funding and policy matters; fought back against claims of “deputy gangs” within the agency; defied subpoenas to appear before the Civilian Oversight Commission; and refused to enforce the county’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate among his deputies and department employees.

He has openly criticized “progressive” policies and politicians, most notably District Attorney George Gascón, and assailed movements to “defund” law enforcement agencies.

Those stances, however, have helped solidify his support among many of those working for him, exemplified by his endorsement by the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs.

“In his next term, Sheriff Villanueva will work to reduce violent crime, compassionately clean up homeless encampments and hold public officials accountable for their actions,” according to his campaign.

Speaking to his supporters Tuesday night, Villanueva said he is “focusing on what matters to people–homelessness  and violent crime.” He said he has been “playing eight-on-one basketball” during the campaign, noting that his candidates were all running on anybody-but-him platforms.

“We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, because it’s the right thing to do,” Villanueva said. “… My job is to keep the community safe. If that means I have to battle the Board of Supervisors, so be it.”

Luna argued during the campaign that the sheriff’s department is being “mismanaged” by Villanueva and said he will work to restore trust in the agency. He also touted his position as an outsider with no connections to the sheriff’s department.

“Growing up in East Los Angeles, patrolled by the sheriff’s department, opened my eyes to examples of both good and bad policing, and inspired my 36-year career in law enforcement,” Luna said in a candidate statement.

He said he will work to “modernize” the sheriff’s department and its jail system and improve the mental well-being of deputies and employees.

The other hopefuls in the race were sheriff’s Lt. Eric Strong; sheriff’s Sgt. Karla Carranza; Los Angeles Airport Police Chief Cecil Rhambo; retired Sheriff’s Capt. Matt Rodriguez; parole agent April Saucedo Hood; retired Sheriff’s Capt. Britta Steinbrenner; and retired sheriff’s Cmdr. Eli Vera.

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