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Bonnie Dumanis and Nathan Fletcher are both running for a seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Former District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and ex-Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, two candidates with plenty of baggage, appear poised for a bitter battle for an open county Board of Supervisors seat this November.

With more than 84 percent of precincts reporting, results early Wednesday morning showed Dumanis and Fletcher with 28 percent and 29 percent of the vote, respectively, edging out former Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña, attorney Omar Passons and retired deputy fire chief Ken Malbrough.

Dumanis, a Republican who retired as district attorney last year before her term was up, has caught flack for her role in a campaign finance scandal and her push to anoint her own successor.

And Fletcher was finally able to survive a high-profile primary after switching parties and transforming his political values and alliances during two failed mayoral campaigns. Like before, he faced attacks from the left and right on his voting record. But this time, his network of Democratic and labor supporters worked hard enough – and spent enough – to put him into first place in late Tuesday results.

Fletcher methodically built alliances with key Democrats. Those relationships and Fletcher’s work on crucial Democratic causes helped him secure endorsements and cash from the county Democratic Party and most local unions. The party alone sunk more than $880,000 into his race.

Carol Kim, political director of the Building Trades Council, an alliance of construction workers’ unions, and numerous other Democratic power players said Fletcher’s commitments helped inspire their endorsement of the former Republican and likely, his primary victory.

“He has done the work. He’s actually spent the time,” Kim said. “He’s shown up. He’s worked hard.”

The influx of cash from the party and unions, including the ones Kim serves, helped Fletcher survive an avalanche of attack ads financed by the Working Families Council, Dumanis’ campaign and the right-leaning Lincoln Club.

Dumanis, meanwhile, made the runoff despite the damage to her political luster in recent years.

The former district attorney, once considered one of San Diego’s most powerful politicians, made a poor showing in the 2012 mayoral primary and withstood a crush of controversies. Dumanis has said a bout with cancer eventually convinced her that she was ready to move on from the district attorney’s office.

A bid for supervisor, Dumanis said, would allow her to pursue more proactive responses to issues such as homelessness and substance abuse that she often dealt with as a prosecutor. Dumanis’ team assumed she would cruise to the general election while Democrats warred. They were correct. Dumanis’ supporters say her initially sluggish campaign doesn’t speak to her commitment to the race or the seat. They say Dumanis, who has pledged not to take a salary if she’s elected, signed on to run because she believes she can make a difference.

“Bonnie just loves public service and she just loves the county,” said former Mayor Jerry Sanders, now CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. “I think those are the two factors that are really important.”

But Dumanis and Fletcher are headed for a savage battle in coming months.

Republican strategist Jason Roe, who is working for Dumanis’ campaign, predicted a continued throng of independent expenditure committee spending and attacks. He was already offering up digs as the election results rolled in.

“I don’t think anyone who knows Nathan Fletcher who thinks he’s running for County Board of Supervisors because he cares deeply about county issues,” Roe said. “He sees it as a platform to run for something. The reality is Bonnie (Dumanis) isn’t running for anything other than public service.”

Roe said Dumanis’ campaign plans to seize on Fletcher’s voting record as a Republican assemblyman.

Fletcher struck a more positive tone in television interviews on Tuesday night and emphasized his belief that District 4 voters are ready for a Democrat who brings a new perspective to a county board long dominated by Republicans.

He argued that his candidacy represented a potential new beginning while Dumanis’ represented a nod to longtime county leadership.

“I think it will be a stark and clear contrast heading into November,” Fletcher told KUSI. “I’m confident voters are ready for change.”

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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