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After 'crazy month,' Villines says he's GOP insurance commissioner nominee

July 6, 2010 |  1:40 pm

Nearly a month after the June 8 primary, former Assembly GOP leader Mike Villines is breathing a sigh of relief, announcing Tuesday that he has narrowly dispatched an unknown challenger who had threatened to derail his bid for state insurance commissioner.

In the early vote count, Villines (R-Clovis) had trailed a political no-name, Department of Insurance attorney Brian FitzGerald, by 11,000 votes for the Republican nomination. But as of Tuesday, Villines held a 13,474-vote lead, according to the unofficial tally kept by the secretary of state’s office, out of more than 1.9 million ballots cast.

“It looks like there’s not enough votes left to count to change the result,” Villines said Tuesday, the final day for counties to count outstanding ballots. FitzGerald was not yet conceding.

The closeness of the race came as a political shocker. Villines is a former GOP leader who raised nearly $1 million for his campaign. FitzGerald spent less than $5,000. FitzGerald’s campaign consisted of submitting nomination papers, launching a blog (“FitzOnTheJob.com”), writing a ballot statement and flying to Los Angeles for an endorsement meeting with The Times’ editorial board. (He did not receive the paper’s backing.)

And yet FitzGerald outpaced Villines in the early vote count. So much so that Villines said he sent FitzGerald a quasi-concession e-mail in the wee hours of June 9. “I told him, ‘It looks like you did it. I’ll do whatever you need,’” Villines said.

But the Clovis Republican slowly clawed his way ahead as votes were tabulated in the weeks after the election. “It’s been a crazy month,” Villines said. “I’m really encouraged and starting to focus on November.” 

Villines had several factors play against him in June, including the job title he listed on the ballot, which identified him as a lawmaker in an anti-incumbent year.

"My ballot designation wasn’t fantastic but it was the truth," he said.

Villines also had fallen out of the good graces of the GOP right wing after helping craft a 2009 budget agreement that included tax hikes.

FitzGerald, in a voice-mail message left Tuesday said he had “nothing to say at this point ... until all the votes are counted.” County elections officials must complete their count by today. The California secretary of state will certify the official election results by July 16.

-- Shane Goldmacher in Sacramento