SACRAMENTO -- Is Mike Villines the comeback kid?
After trailing since Election Day, the state Assembly member from Clovis on Wednesday jumped out to a 2,746-vote lead in the GOP race for state insurance commissioner, according to the latest totals reported by the Secretary of State.
Villines was helped by newly reported votes from Fresno County, where he holds a 50 percentage-point lead over his opponent, Brian FitzGerald, an enforcement attorney at the insurance department.
Still, with plenty of ballots outstanding across the state, the race could go either way. The Secretary of State estimated Wednesday that 773,497 ballots remained uncounted.
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"We're happy that the absentee votes have been trending in our favor and we've been able to pull ahead," said Villines' spokeswoman, Jennifer Gibbons. "But there are still thousands of ballots to be counted, so we'll continue watching the results very closely."
Going into the election, Villines was considered the favorite over FitzGerald, a political rookie who barely spent money on his campaign.
Villines trails in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. In an ominous sign for him, those counties appear to have plenty more votes to report -- although so do other counties where Villines leads, such as Sacramento.
Villines said he did well where voters know him best -- in the Central Valley and in San Diego County, where he spent a lot of time working for former Gov. Pete Wilson.
Meanwhile, Dinuba real estate agent Tim Thiesen declared himself the winner in the hotly contested GOP primary in the 16th state Senate District, although his opponent, Phil Wyman, is not conceding. Thiesen, who leads Wyman by 478 votes, said in a statement that he is "shifting focus" to the Democratic nominee -- Kern County Supervisor Michael Rubio, who had no primary opposition.
But Wyman, a former state lawmaker who is seeking a return to Sacramento after an 18-year absence, said in a statement that "I am waiting for the final count." He has also filed a complaint about a radio ad paid for by an independent group backing Thiesen that Wyman says did not properly disclose details on who paid for the ad.
The Democratic-leaning district includes portions of Fresno and Hanford and is now served by termed-out Democrat Dean Florez.
Updated vote counts in other races show:
In the District 1 race for Fresno County supervisor, incumbent Phil Larson is barely above the 50% threshold needed to avoid a November runoff against the second-place finisher, which is almost certainly Fresno City Council Member Cynthia Sterling.
Right now, Larson is four votes above the 50% mark. The official release shows Larson at 49.96%, but that counts 18 write-in votes that will be disqualified because there was no qualified write-in candidate, Salazar said.
In the District 5 Fresno City Council race, former Council Member Sal Quintero remains solidly in the lead in his quest to recapture his old seat, but still doesn't have enough votes to avoid a runoff.
Currently in second place is Louise Bauer Davoli, with 847 votes. Just 25 votes behind her is Valerie Davis.
Davoli's lead isn't secure, but it has been growing, from just four ahead on election night to the current 25.
There are still 10,000 absentee and provisional ballots countywide left to be counted. Another update is scheduled Friday, County Clerk Victor Salazar said.