Initial ballot returns showed the Democrat with 32,728 votes — 47.1 percent of the 69,423 tallied as of Tuesday night.
Sultan Mayor Carolyn Eslick, a Republican, was running second in the three-candidate field, with 26,939 votes, 38.8 percent of the total.
Early returns from the top-two primary make Lovick and Eslick the leading contenders to face off Nov. 4 for a special one-year term in office.
“I feel great to be moving onto the general election,” said Lovick, who was celebrating with other Democrats at Everett's Labor Temple. “It's going to be an energizing and exciting campaign.”
Lovick said he was satisfied with the total, despite having a nearly tenfold fundraising advantage over Eslick and much higher name recognition.
Eslick is looking forward to the coming months.
“This is proof that money really doesn't buy the race,” she said. “It's about getting out and meeting the people. I've got lots of work to do in the next three months and I'm ready to go for it.”
In third place was Lynnwood attorney James Robert Deal, a Democrat whose platform includes eliminating fluoride from drinking water, lowering the voting age to 16 and raising the minimum wage. He had 13.4 percent of the total with 9,292 votes.
County elections officials counted 70,767 votes Tuesday night — almost 17 percent of the 417,448 issued. They've predicted turnout in the neighborhood of 32 percent. They expect to release updated vote counts around 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Lovick, 63, of Mill Creek, is a retired state trooper who was elected county sheriff in 2007 and 2011.
His career outside of politics includes 31 years with the Washington State Patrol and 13 years with the U.S. Coast Guard. He served nine years in the Legislature and five years on the Mill Creek City Council.
In June 2013, local Democrats and the County Council chose Lovick to replace Aaron Reardon, the former three-term county executive, who had resigned after a series of scandals. This year's election will determine who serves out what would have been Reardon's term.
An election for the full four-year term is set for 2015.
Lovick has vowed to restore integrity to the executive's office, where he oversees a majority of the county's 2,700 employees. By most accounts, he's succeeded in boosting morale among the workforce. He also led the county's response through its worst natural disaster ever, the March 22 Oso mudslide.
“The vision is to have good safe schools in the community, roads that will support the growth that is coming and good-paying jobs,” Lovick said Tuesday.
Lovick's tenure has had some missteps. He was widely criticized in June after it was revealed that some top managers in his office received 10 percent raises, even as other county departments were told they might face cuts in next year's budget.
Eslick, 64, has served as Sultan's mayor since 2009. She served on City Council from 1995 to 2001.
For 20 years, she operated the Dutch Cup restaurant in Sultan, before selling the business in 2002. She helped start the local chamber of commerce and now runs a nonprofit called GROW Washington that promotes small businesses.
Her campaign for executive focuses on job creation and budgetary restraint.
“Fiscal responsibility is still the hot number in my book,” she said Tuesday. “Snohomish County has to get its budget in shape and stop spending money that it doesn't have.”
She's also made an issue of public safety. Her house was burglarized twice in three days in February.
“As your Executive, I will work with our Sheriffs, Prosecutor's Office and Judges to address the rampant property crimes plaguing Snohomish County,” her website says.
As of primary election day, Lovick had raised nearly $96,000 and spent less than a third of it, the state Public Disclosure Commission reported. Eslick has taken in a little over $10,000 and had spent almost $6,000.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; email@example.com. Twitter: @NWhaglund.
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