Clockwise from top: Dave Myers, Kelly Martinez and John Hemmerling

Undersheriff Kelly Martinez, a Democrat, advanced easily to the runoff. She had 38 percent of the vote as of Wednesday, almost the total of the next two candidates combined.

The second-place spot is still up for grabs. Republican John Hemmerling and Dave Myers, who had the Democratic Party’s official endorsement, were within a couple percentage points of one another. But as more ballots come in, Hemmerling has increased his lead over Myers.

Regardless of who makes it through, the fact a Democrat — Martinez — was leading the pack on primary night is historic. Republicans have dominated the sheriff’s office in San Diego County for half a century, if not more, in races that were rarely competitive. On occasion, the incumbent ran unopposed. Just a few years ago it would have been difficult to imagine two Democrats facing each other in a countywide runoff. Now, that could happen.

Martinez, who changed her party registration in 2020, benefited from her current position as undersheriff and the decades she’s spent in the department, which convinced at least a few Republicans to cross the partisan line.

Jesse Marx talked to several of them at polling sites in Lemon Grove and Spring Valley on Tuesday morning and they cited the San Diego County Gun Owners endorsement of Martinez. They said they worried that a progressive like Myers might take funds away from the Sheriff’s Department. At the same time, they faulted Hemmerling, who actually got the GOP’s support, for his work enforcing gun violence restraining orders as a prosecutor. 

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