SAN DIEGO — A Republican city councilman cruised to a runoff in an election to replace the disgraced Bob Filner as San Diego mayor, while a first-term Democratic councilman closed in on securing a spot as his challenger.
Kevin Faulconer easily topped a field of 11 candidates with 43.6 percent of Tuesday's vote with all precincts reporting, falling short of a majority needed to avoid a runoff. His strong showing gives Republicans a chance to recapture an office they held for much of the last four decades and an opportunity for a rare win leading a major American city.
David Alvarez, riding support from organized labor and an effort to turn out voters in heavily Latino neighborhoods, followed with 25.6 percent. Nathan Fletcher, an executive at wireless technology titan Qualcomm Inc. and former state assemblyman, trailed with 24.3 percent.
With no one winning a majority, the top two finishers advance to a runoff. About 34,500 mail-in and provisional ballots remained to be counted out of nearly 240,000 votes cast, but Alvarez's lead over Fletcher steadily widened to more than 2,600 votes.
"The next campaign starts tonight," Alvarez, 33, told supporters Tuesday night in a hoarse voice. "We will have a couple more months."
Faulconer, 46, said he was "halfway there" in his quest to lead the nation's eighth-largest city.
"Tonight we have shown what we are capable of and I can't wait to hit the ground running tomorrow," he told supporters. "Everybody did such a great job. We'll give you an hour off tonight and then we'll be ready to get going."
Faulconer, a former public relations executive, must appeal well beyond his Republican base to prevail in a runoff, which will likely be scheduled in February. Democrats hold a 13-point advantage over Republicans in voter registration, and President Obama trounced Mitt Romney by 25 points among city voters in last year's presidential election.
"It's not about being a Republican or Democrat. It's about coming together to put San Diego first," Faulconer told supporters.
Filner, the city's first Democratic leader in 20 years, resigned less than nine months into a four-year term after nearly 20 women publicly identified themselves as targets of his unwanted advances, including kissing, groping and requests for dates. He pleaded guilty last month to one felony count of false imprisonment and two misdemeanor counts of battery for his behavior toward women during his brief time in office.
The former 10-term congressman was barely mentioned in campaign mailers or televised debates, but candidates adopted his successful campaign mantra of pouring more money into neglected neighborhoods, promising to repair crumbling streets and sidewalks and faster fire and ambulance response times.
During his seven years on the City Council, Faulconer was a close ally of Mayor Jerry Sanders, Filner's moderate Republican predecessor. He embraced successful ballot measures to cut pension benefits for city workers and allow private contractors to bid on providing city services.
Alvarez was backed by the San Diego County Democratic Party Central Committee and the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, the largest coalition of organized labor.
Fletcher, who was endorsed by Gov. Jerry Brown, Attorney General Kamala Harris and several law enforcement unions, weathered heavy attacks from Faulconer and Alvarez camps. The 36-year-old Marine combat veteran became a Democrat in May, barely a year after bolting the Republican Party to become an independent.
"He had to fight a two-front battle," said Steve Erie, a political science professor at University of California, San Diego.
Mike Aguirre, a Democratic former city attorney, won 4.5 percent of the vote. He focused almost exclusively on trying to cut the city's pension obligations.