Blakeslee could still win race outright

Sam Blakeslee still could win the battle for state Senate outright, according to the numbers from Tuesday’s election, but it’s unlikely. As of Wednesday, 17,783 provisional and absentee ballots remained to be counted in the five counties in the 15th state Senate District — San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Monterey and Santa Clara — according to elections officials.

Republican Blakeslee’s unofficial margin of victory over Democrat John Laird after Tuesday’s special primary was 11,037 votes, with 100 percent of the ballots counted, according to the California Secretary of State.

Blakeslee, an assemblyman, had 49 percent of the votes that had been counted by Tuesday night. To win outright and avoid a second election in August, he would have to take just over 52 percent of the outstanding ballots, according to a Tribune analysis. A more probable scenario is a continued fight for the seat, vacated in May when Abel Maldonado left it halfway through his term to accept appointment as lieutenant governor.

The counting continued the day after the balloting, and final certification won’t likely come until Wednesday.

Blakeslee, a former minority leader in the Assembly, and Laird, former chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee, also faced Jim Fitzgerald of Nipomo — an independent who is not affiliated with a political party — and Libertarian Mark Hinkle of Morgan Hill.

Hinkle and Fitzgerald acted as spoilers Tuesday, taking 3 and 6 percent of the vote, respectively, which kept the better-financed Laird and Blakeslee from winning outright.

Blakeslee, who hails from San Luis Obispo, and Laird, from Santa Cruz, were preparing Tuesday night to go forward with a runoff.

Both men proclaimed themselves pleased by the results and hope to use the eight weeks until the Aug. 17 runoff to introduce themselves to voters in parts of the district where they are not well-known.

Each of them said they need to set the record straight after what they call misleading advertisements by their opponents that demonized them.

Neither, however, found fault with their own advertisements, which they both said told voters the truth about their opponent.

Laird’s ads tied Blakeslee, a former Exxon manager, to oil drilling and “Big Oil.” Blakeslee’s ads, with images of a train wreck, portrayed Laird as fiscally irresponsible and a hypocrite.The environment will loom large as an issue in the weeks ahead, as BP’s offshore drilling accident continues to spill oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

So, too, will the state budget which, once again, faces a shortfall — this time of $19 billion. Both men have worked intimately on the budget in the past, Laird as committee chairman and Blakeslee as one of the so-called Gang of Five legislative leaders in 2009.

There are other issues as well. Blakeslee said he has been hearing repeatedly that voters fear a veto-proof majority in the Legislature, which a win by Laird could bring closer to reality.Laird said he has been hearing constant concerns about education.