SAN DIEGO, Nov 20 (Reuters) - A Republican city councilman and a Latino Democrat with party backing appeared headed for a runoff in an election to replace former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, who resigned in a sexual harassment scandal, unofficial returns showed on Wednesday.
Republican Kevin Faulconer and Democrat David Alvarez were the top two vote-getters in a race crowded with 11 candidates vying to succeed Filner, the first Democrat elected mayor of California's second-largest city in two decades.
Faulconer garnered 44 percent of the vote, and Alvarez trailed him with 26 percent, appearing to edge out fellow Democrat Nathan Fletcher by just over 2,600 votes out of more than 200,000 cast in Tuesday's officially nonpartisan election, the returns showed.
But the results were still unofficial. Some 34,500 mail and provisional ballots had yet to be counted, well above the number needed by Fletcher to inch back into second place, according to the San Diego County Registrar of Voters, which posted returns online with 100 percent of precincts reporting.
With none of the candidates clinching an outright majority, the results set the stage for a runoff in February.
Fletcher, a former U.S. Marine and onetime state assemblyman, was a Republican until switching parties after finishing third in his 2012 bid for mayor. With the backing of several key labor unions and the high-tech industry, he had been seen as the presumptive Democratic nominee.
But since starting the campaign with nearly 40 percent popular support in public opinion polls, Fletcher has steadily lost ground to Alvarez, a city councilman who won the endorsement of the San Diego Democratic Party.
Alvarez, whose platform most resembles Filner's, was elected to the council in 2010 by largely working-class and Hispanic neighborhoods, including Barrio Logan, where he grew up.
He has established a track record of fighting for those communities, often finding himself at odds with the downtown establishment, which backs Faulconer.
Faulconer "represents the center right, which is the tradition of mayors that we've had in the past," San Diego Republican Party Chairman Tony Kravic said in September.
Filner, who served in Congress for 20 years before he was elected mayor in 2012, resigned at the end of August as part of a settlement with the city over how to handle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by his former press secretary, Irene McCormack Jackson.
She was one of 19 women who came forward to accuse the 70-year-old politician of making unwanted advances toward them. (Reporting by Karen Brooks in Austin and Marty Graham in San Diego; Writing by Karen Brooks; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Von Ahn)