After a whirlwind, blistering race to replace a disgraced former state legislator, Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby came in first among five candidates Tuesday but fell short of the majority needed to avoid a runoff.
In the special election for the 72nd Assembly District seat, Norby jumped to an early lead over fellow Republicans -- longtime party activist Linda Ackerman and political newcomer Richard Faher -- Democrat John MacMurray and Jane Rands of the Green Party.
From the outset, the race in the GOP stronghold was viewed as a showdown between Norby, 59, and Ackerman, 65, a member of the Metropolitan Water District board and the wife of former Republican legislative leader Dick Ackerman.
None of the other candidates had the money to mount an extensive campaign, but MacMurray, who has run for the seat previously, outpolled Ackerman, putting him in second place.
Norby credited his 25 years as an elected official in the area for his strong showing. "The voters were familiar with me. They knew my record," Norby said. "I think I can take that experience to Sacramento and help turn this state around."
Turnout at the polls was low -- just over 3% by 6 p.m., said Orange County Registrar Neal Kelley. That gave considerable weight to the absentee vote.
Ackerman raised more money than Norby and was supported by two independent campaigns. But she battled criticism that she was a carpetbagger -- she moved from Irvine to enter the race -- and her support from current and former state legislators led opponents to label her a "Sacramento insider" who would do nothing to fix the dysfunctional state government.
Norby endured numerous attacks on his character, including a cable TV ad by an independent committee supporting Ackerman that highlighted his four marriages and a jury's sexual harassment finding against him (later reversed by an appeals court).
It also compared him to Mike Duvall, the married Republican who resigned the Assembly seat in September after a tape of him bragging about his sexual exploits with two lobbyists was broadcast.
By election day, however, most bloggers and other pundits were predicting that Norby would finish first, in large part because of his long tenure in north Orange County politics, beginning with the Fullerton City Council.
Norby, who won more than 37% of the vote, will be in a runoff on Jan. 12 with MacMurray and Rands.
Because nearly 43% of the district's voters are Republican, however, observers say there would be little doubt about the outcome.
Complete unofficial results are available at ocvote.com.