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Stephen Whitburn’s bid for county supervisor came to an end Tuesday night with voters roundly reelecting the 16-year incumbent Ron Roberts.

Whitburn didn’t respond to calls late Tuesday about the election, but he called back Wednesday morning to reflect on the campaign. The Democrat acknowledged defeat and said he has no plans to challenge the results.

“Certainly I’m disappointed, but I’m proud of the campaign we ran,” Whitburn said. “We made excellent use of the resources we had.”

But as Whitburn also noted, those resources weren’t enough to win. Roberts, a Republican, sealed his fifth term as county supervisor with 57 percent of the total vote to Whitburn’s 43 percent.

Along the campaign trail, Whitburn said he consistently struggled to overcome one main obstacle — finding voters who know and care enough about county government to vote in the election of its leadership.

“I was struck throughout the campaign by the degree to which county government is off so many people’s radar,” Whitburn said. “Up until the day of the election, we were continuing to get the question, ‘What does county government do?’ Making the case for change to a voter who isn’t particularly aware of the seat you’re running for is challenging.”

Whitburn hoped to represent the county’s fourth supervisorial district, which stretches from University City to Paradise Hills and almost entirely resides within the city of San Diego. Since county government has a greater impact on unincorporated areas, city residents have fewer points to connect with county policies.

Whitburn said lagging attention to county government made it harder to gain traction on the issues and fundraise. By mid-October, Roberts raised $355,000, more than tripling Whitburn.

“What is true of the electorate is also true of the donor community,” Whitburn said. “They are many donors who aren’t particularly familiar with county government and don’t have the resources they had two years ago and who viewed it as difficult to defeat a longtime incumbent.”

Whitburn said he didn’t expect to receive more financial support from independent groups like organized labor or the local Democratic Party, and said he wasn’t frustrated by them putting more weight behind other local and statewide races. He emphasized the power of Roberts’ incumbency more than anything else.

“In any election cycle, you’re going to have a number of important races,” he said. “I continue to think we need to have a progressive voice on the county board, but a lot is going to need to be done to show how important county government is.”

Despite the loss, Whitburn said he was pleased to be part of the campaign since it partly achieved that goal of educating more voters about the role of county government.

“There was a tremendous amount of ground support,” he said. “I am nothing but grateful.”

Please contact Keegan Kyle directly at or 619.550.5668 and follow him on Twitter:

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