California schools superintendent race heads to runoff

06/04/2014 5:44 PM

06/11/2014 8:47 AM

The costly and ideologically charged race for state superintendent of public instruction will continue to November.

Despite a big push of support by the California Teachers Association in the final weeks of the campaign, incumbent Tom Torlakson fell short of clinching re-election for the nonpartisan office in Tuesday’s primary. While election officials still must count tens of thousands of ballots, Torlakson had 46.9 percent of the vote, well below the simple majority needed to avoid a top two runoff.

He will face former charter schools executive Marshall Tuck in the general election. Tuck received 28.6 percent of the vote, edging out schoolteacher Lydia Gutierrez, who received 24.4 percent.

With multiple challengers in the race, Torlakson spokesman Paul Hefner said his campaign had anticipated a runoff. But Torlakson’s commanding lead over opponents bodes well for November, he added.

“We view last night as a real vote of confidence for Tom and the work he’s doing,” Hefner said.

The state schools chief race was one of the most expensive of the primary, attracting more outside spending than any other so far this year.

Though both Torlakson and Tuck are Democrats, they fall on opposing sides of several controversial issues involving teacher evaluation and hiring practices that have drawn interest from education activists looking to overhaul California’s public education system – as well as immense pushback from unions.

Torlakson was heavily backed by organized labor, which provided the majority of the more than $1.3 million he raised for his re-election effort leading up to the primary. Independent spending efforts, primarily by the CTA, put more than $2 million into ads supporting Torlakson and attacking Tuck’s record.

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