Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert declared victory Tuesday over challenger Noah Phillips after a contentious fight for the prosecutor's office spotlighted by two explosive events - the fatal police shooting of Stephon Clark and the arrest of the East Area Rapist suspect.
Schubert led 64 percent to 36 percent with nearly 113,000 votes counted and all precincts reporting, according to returns posted by the Sacramento County Elections Office.
Schubert delivered a celebratory address on a veranda overlooking Capitol Mall less than an hour after polls closed.
"This is a good day for the people," she said to a jubilant crowd of about 100 supporters. "You can't buy an election in the county of Sacramento. Here's to four more years."
"You can stay 'til 10 or 11, but I'll say this is a wrap."
At nearby California Democratic Party headquarters, Phillips said after Schubert's speech that it was too early to declare the race over as supporters munched on tacos.
"It's early, early, early. We have not heard from the people yet - the people that voted Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday," Phillips said about 10:15 p.m. "And you know who those people are? Those are our people."
Minutes earlier, Sacramento Democratic Party chair Terry Schanz called Schubert's victory lap "completely premature."
"It's all fluff, no facts," Schanz said. "Let the registrar do their work. Let the voters be heard."
Four years ago, 204,290 votes were cast in the DA's race; if this year's contest is similar, the early count would represent nearly half of all votes.
“Those are the early returns,” Phillips said. "I’m going to assume that’s mail-in ballots, going to skew Republican, skews older. We had a lot of people come out today so I’m looking forward to those returns.”
During the campaign, Phillips, 46, aggressively went after his boss by calling on voters to help him fix a “broken system” in the DA’s office and replace an incumbent he labeled as isolated, old-guard and too close to law enforcement.
His campaign gained traction after the fatal March shooting of Stephon Clark by Sacramento police and the protests and rallies that followed. Phillips called for greater police accountability, more aggressive investigation of police shootings and changes geared toward reducing incarceration rates.
More support came from outside the county – largely from social and criminal justice reform groups including Real Justice PAC and California Justice & Safety PAC. The organizations, funded by billionaire George Soros, backed left-leaning DA candidates across the country.
Since last year, Phillips received just over $1 million in campaign contributions, an unprecedented amount for a Sacramento County DA's challenger, according to campaign finance filings through May 19.
Over that period, he received more financial support than incumbent Schubert, who took in nearly $800,000 through May 19, including significant contributions from law enforcement and business organizations.
Schubert faced ongoing criticism and doorstep protests at her downtown offices in the wake of Clark’s shooting for not acting more quickly to get to the bottom of what led to Clark’s death and why he was killed.
Schubert repeatedly appealed for patience saying she awaited - and still awaits – investigatory findings from Sacramento police, while campaigning on her record of advocacy for crime victims.
On Tuesday, she called Clark's death a "tragedy," saying Sacramento "has faced many things. I have every bit of faith that we will
Schubert, 54, the acolyte of former Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully, cruised to a comfortable victory over a pair of competitors in 2014. In her re-election bid, she enjoyed support from law enforcement, business groups and nearly 20 retired Sacramento, federal and appellate judges.
She also won the early endorsement of Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and many of the region's political leaders.
The arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo, the Citrus Heights man suspected to be the notorious East Area Rapist, dramatically shifted momentum to Schubert in the final months of the campaign and helped burnish Schubert’s message as a cold case expert who fought for justice for crime victims.
For all the criticism Schubert took during the campaign, Phillips encountered heat of his own.
First, he faced prosecutorial misconduct allegations of trading a deal with a murder suspect for testimony against co-defendants at trial. The situation remains unresolved. Phillips has repeatedly denied any misconduct.
In May, a damaging racist and sexist email from his work account was provided to The Sacramento Bee. The District Attorney's Office said the email was found during an internal investigation into the misconduct claims. Phillips initially said the leak was a political dirty trick engineered by Schubert.
The campaign turned increasingly nasty in the race's final weeks with both sides taking to the airwaves to trade pointed attacks. Phillips was "unethical" and "dangerous," said one oft-played Schubert ad.
Schubert was "compromised and corrupt," Phillips' ad said in response.
Their face-to-face meetings at campaign forums and before the Bee's editorial board were equally tense, the grim-faced pair scarcely looking at each other or shaking hands.
Phillips eventually apologized for the February 2016 email sent by his uncle and has petitioned a Sacramento Superior Court judge to throw the DA's office off the murder case, now heading to sentencing. Defense attorneys in the case are seeking a new trial. The case returns to court Friday.
Veteran political consultants already were speculating on the damage done, calling the email a fatal blow.
“(Phillips') campaign was on life support and that email was like pulling the plug,” said consultant Doug Elmets. “...When you’re running against a popular incumbent, it’s an uphill battle. That’s the reality.”
The Bee's Kellen Browning contributed to this report.