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Brian FitzGerald's razor-thin lead in the Republican primary for insurance commissioner has been chopped by more than half through the counting of absentee and provisional ballots since election day.

FitzGerald's 11,204-vote lead after all precincts had been counted last Wednesday was down to 5,388 votes by early this morning, according to tallies posted by the secretary of state.

FitzGerald, a state Department of Insurance attorney who never has held public office, had spent less than $5,000 in campaigning against former Assembly Republican leader Mike Villines of Shaver Lake, who is termed out of the Legislature this year.

Villines' more extensive name recognition may have been blunted somewhat by GOP controversy over his support as leader last year for a state budget deal that included temporary tax hikes.

The assemblyman has been villainized on conservative talk radio, including on the popular John and Ken Show (KFI 640 AM) in Los Angeles, which branded him a "tax traitor."

Tens of thousands of ballots, perhaps hundreds of thousands, may not yet have been counted. Counties reporting to the state last Thursday and Friday listed 1.2 million ballots remaining.

Despite narrowing the gap, Villines appears to still face an uphill striggle to win the nomination.Of populous counties statewide, Villines is leading in San Francisco, Sacramento and San Diego, which cumulatively reported 218,056 uncounted ballots late last week. FitzGerald is winning in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside, which reported 448,065 ballots remaining.



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