SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) — In the race for California Superintendent of Public Instruction, incumbent Tom Torlakson staked an early lead over fellow Democrat Marshall Tuck while a a third GOP candidate had a surprisingly strong showing, according to early results.

Torlakson was leading with 49% to Tuck’s 27% of the early vote totals Tuesday. Should Torlakson get a clear majority he would avoid a November runoff with the 2nd place finisher.

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Longshot Republican Lydia Gutierrez, a Long Beach teacher, was running slightly behind Tuck at 24% with 10 percent of precincts reporting.

The schools superintendent has served primarily as a pulpit with no real power – as the Legislature holds the authority to set education policy and the state board of education is appointed by the governor.

This year’s election for state schools chief turned into a multi-million dollar proxy fight between teachers unions, who supported Torlakson, and reformists seeking to overhaul California’s education system who backed Tuck, a former charter school executive.

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Both candidates support the Common Core State Standards and a revamped school funding plan for schools with low-income students and those learning English. However, Tuck is in favor of reforming rules on tenure and seniority, while making student test scores a factor in teacher evaluations and merit pay.

Torlakson maintains California education has seen steady progress on his watch while the state’s students have survived recession-fueled funding cuts through his work with the Gov. Brown and the legislature.

Gutierrez, a Long Beach teacher, opposes the Common Core academic standards that have been adopted by 44 states.

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