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Initial returns show Ron Roberts is exactly where he wants to be in his campaign for a fifth term as county supervisor.

Preliminary absentee ballot results put the Republican incumbent leading Stephen Whitburn, the Democratic challenger, 58.8 percent to 41 percent, with 17.3 percent of the vote counted.

Before returns were in, Roberts’ campaign consultant, Tom Shepard, said winning at least 55 percent of the absentee vote would show a healthy advantage before precinct results later tonight.

Absentee ballots have historically leaned toward more conservative, elderly voters — the backbone of Roberts’ support — but recent elections have called those trends into question. As the popularity of absentee voting has increased statewide, partisan leanings have diminished.

Whitburn’s campaign manager, Barry Klein, downplayed the importance of early indicators Monday, saying the election could swing drastically as precinct totals are counted from a diverse collection of neighborhoods across the district.

The candidates are vying to represent the fourth supervisorial district, which stretches from University City to Paradise Hills. In the primary, Roberts had his best results in more conservative, northern neighborhoods, such as Clairemont Mesa and Serra Mesa. Whitburn had his strongest showing in more liberal, central neighborhoods like North Park and Hillcrest.

If Roberts and Whitburn retain their strongholds, some of the most impactful votes could come from southeastern San Diego neighborhoods, like Encanto, where neither candidate did well in the primary.

Shepard said a strong showing among absentee ballots would be a good sign that Roberts’ early campaign spending paid off. Between July and mid-October, he spent about $200,000 on print ads, literature, consultants and other campaign costs. Whitburn spent about $65,000 in the same period.

Throughout the campaign, Roberts has significantly outpaced Whitburn on fundraising and spending, especially closer to the election. The most recent disclosure reports, covering the first two weeks of October, show Roberts raised $62,000, about seven times more than Whitburn.

While Whitburn has struggled on fundraising, the precinct results later tonight will measure the power of his advantage in the race: The number of registered Democrats in the district, where Democrats outnumber Republicans two-to-one. If Whitburn and his supporters successfully increased turnout among Democratic voters, his chance of eclipsing Roberts’ lead improves.

In other county elections, incumbent Supervisor Bill Horn leads challenger Steve Gronke, 54 percent to 45 percent. Proposition A, the ballot measure that would ban the county from requiring project labor agreements, is also headed for approval, with 77 percent of voters supporting it.

Please contact Keegan Kyle directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/keegankyle.

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