As the returns rolled in on election night, it looked like an obscure Mojave Desert accountant with his dirt-cheap campaign for state controller might pull off the unlikely feat of denying state Assembly Speaker John Pérez a spot in the November runoff.
A week after the election in which nearly 4.3 million ballots were cast, the latest vote tally still found Pérez, a Los Angeles Democrat, falling 1,073 votes short of what he needs to make the runoff, even after spending more than $2 million on his campaign.
FOR THE RECORD, June 10, 3:07 p.m.: A previous headline on this post referred to the race for secretary of state.
But Republican accountant David Evans of California City is no longer standing in the speaker's way. Instead, it's Bay Area Democrat Betty Yee, a member of the state Board of Equalization, who remains just ahead of Pérez, according to an updated vote tally released Tuesday by the secretary of state's office.
If the rankings hold as an estimated 756,000 remaining ballots are counted over the next few weeks, Yee will face Republican Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin in November.
Pérez could still surpass Yee. He is counting on his home county, Los Angeles, where more than 148,000 ballots are still to be counted, to push him over the top.
"We feel really good about where things are at," Pérez strategist Doug Herman said.
But Yee's strength in San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento and nearby areas could offset any gains the speaker realizes in L.A.
For Evans, the votes he will no doubt pick up in Orange, Ventura and the state's more rural counties stand little chance of matching what his Democratic rivals will amass in the party's urban strongholds. On Tuesday, Evans was 5,845 votes behind Yee.
Still, to win 21.4% of the vote — Pérez and Yee were each a whisker ahead with 21.6% — is a major coup for Evans after he spent just $600 on his campaign.
Evans, 52, is chief financial officer and part owner of a Bay Area chain of car dealers, Boardwalk Motor Car Group of Redwood City. A pilot and flight instructor, he flies his four-seat Cessna to work about once a week from his hometown near Edwards Air Force Base.
Car salesmen might be unpopular, but Evans' ballot designation said simply "chief financial officer," an appealing occupation for a candidate apiring to be the state's chief bookkeeper. That, along with his "nice all-American sounding name," was apparently enough to match — or just about — the speaker's costly TV advertising in L.A., San Francisco and Sacramento, said Yee consultant Parke Skelton.
"Most people who are voting in this race haven't even thought about it until they step into the polling place," Skelton said. "People are basically picking names at random."
In the secretary of state's voter guide, mailed to nearly 18 million Californians, Evans described himself as simply "most qualified for controller."
From 2006 to 2008, Evans was mayor of California City, an isolated tumbleweed town of 14,000 people with a state prison in eastern Kern County.
In 2010, Evans spent $400 on a run for state controller and managed to score 40% in what was then the Republican Party primary. Two years later he ran for mayor again, telling the Mojave Desert News that conflicts of interest in city government were "multiplying like rabbits in a hutch." He lost.
On election night last week, Evans landed in the No. 2 spot for a while. Since then, he has traded that position with Pérez and Yee, whose consultants agree that he's now stuck in fourth, with the bulk of uncounted votes coming from Democratic parts of the state.
Evans, however, has not given up hope.
"We're just not going to know until the ballots are counted," he said. "We're just waiting."