Merced County sheriff’s candidate Vern Warnke said his first-place finish Tuesday mirrored his campaign throughout the primary race.
“We started off behind, but really picked up steam towards the end,” Warnke said Wednesday. “I’m very happy with how things have turned out so far. I’m looking forward to November.”
Warnke finished in first place on election day with 34.18 percent of the vote, narrowly besting Pat Lunney, who finished with 32.96 percent. The two frontrunners were separated by just 239 votes, according to the unofficial results posted by the Merced County Registrar of Voters office.
Because no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote, the two frontrunners will compete in a runoff in November.
Never miss a local story.
“I think we had a good strategy and we stuck to it,” Lunney said. “I think everybody involved in the primary did a lot of good work all the way around, all the candidates and the people involved in the campaigns.”
Both candidates said they plan to work on strategy sessions in the coming days and will begin campaigning for the November election next week.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Frank Swiggart, who raised the most money during the campaign, finished a strong third with more than 26 percent of the vote. Swiggart, 47, did not respond Wednesday to requests for comment.
Livingston City Councilman Jim Soria finished fourth, well behind the three other candidates, with just over 6 percent.
During his campaign, Soria, 45, criticized the Sheriff’s Department’s lack of racial diversity in top positions. He said Wednesday he believes that whoever wins the election should create a department that reflects the county’s cultural makeup.
Soria was the only candidate in the sheriff’s race with a criminal conviction. He pleaded guilty in 2007 to a misdemeanor count of failing to make an arrest, but the charge was expunged from his record.
Soria’s camp also struggled throughout the campaign with financial disclosure documents, reporting numbers that did not add up and missing a filing deadline by more than a month. The state Fair Political Practices Commission has confirmed plans to investigate Soria’s campaign.
Despite the setbacks and distant last-place finish, Soria said he is “looking forward” to running for sheriff again in 2018. “I want to say thank you to everyone who supported me,” he said.
Warnke and Lunney were the only candidates who signed a “clean campaign pledge” during the primary. Swiggart and Soria refused to sign the document, saying they had already verbally promised to stay positive.
Lunney did not believe the pledge itself carried much weight with the voters. He said he believes voters made their choices based primarily on qualifications and experience. “All the candidates abided by those principles, whether they signed it or not,” Lunney said.
Warnke said he wasn’t sure whether the pledge played a role in Tuesday’s results.
“I’d like to think it did,” Warnke said. “I do think voters are sick of negative politics and want to see adults participate in a respectable debate about the issues. That’s what they’re going to get with me and Pat.”