LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva's bid for a second term will move to a November runoff election against former Long Beach police Chief Robert Luna, with the pair jumping to distant leads Tuesday night, according to early ballot results.
Early returns showed Villanueva leading the nine-person field with 34% of the vote, while Luna collected 25%. Sheriff's Lt. Eric Strong was a distant third with 12.8% of the vote.
After three-and-a-half years on the job, a multitude of controversies and constant fighting with the L.A. County Board of Supervisors -- which oversees the department's $3.5-billion budget -- the results show just how much support Villanueva has.
He ran as a Democrat in 2018 and became the first person in 104 years to defeat a standing sheriff seeking reelection - a fate he hopes to avoid himself.
"If it's a runoff, I look forward to the challenge and they're not gonna fare well," Villanueva said Tuesday night.
During his time as sheriff, Villanueva has appeared to some as a conservative Republican rather than a Democrat, which is something he challenges.
"Can we reform the criminal justice system, where it needs to be reformed? We can do that but we have to do it in a collaborate way, with all the stakeholders and consensus," he said. "Not my way or the highway for everybody."
Eight other candidates ran against Villanueva, including retired LASD Capt. Britta Steinbrenner, retired LASD Assistant Chief and current LAX Police Chief Cecil Rhambo and retired LASD commander Eli Vera. Almost all of them have connections to the sheriff's department except for Luna.
"A vast majority of people want change. They don't like what's happening. They want a sheriff that's collaborator," Luna said.
"In law enforcement, people are supposed to look at us at the people who not only enforce the law, but we listen and cooperate with for example, oversight, subpoenas," said Luna. "If I get subpoenaed, I need to comply with that, just like every community member in L.A. County does, and for some reason, (Villanueva) stands up there and thinks he's beyond the law. This is not about us as individuals. It is about the people we serve, and we have to come up with solutions. We have to problem solve and at the end of the day, what kind of person fights and calls people names to the same individuals who control your budget."