Incumbent Democrat Dave Somers was leading three Republican challengers Tuesday night in the race for Snohomish County Council District 5.

Incumbent Democrat Dave Somers was leading three Republican challengers tonight for Snohomish County Council District 5.

Somers, a former fisheries biologist who is seeking his third term on the council, will likely face Republican challenger Steve Dana, a Snohomish restaurant owner, or Vern Little, a Boeing quality manager. Dana and Little were within a percentage point of each other in returns tonight. More ballots will be counted Wednesday. Another Republican challenger, Maltby activist Greg Stephens, tried to withdraw from the race after disclosure of a 1983 felony for indecent liberties. But because the primary ballots had already been printed, he was not legally able to do so.

District 5 largely follows Highway 2 and includes the rapidly growing areas around Snohomish, Monroe and Lake Stevens. An incumbent has not been re-elected since the district was formed in the 1980s.

Somers was first elected to the seat in 1999. He lost to pro-growth Republican Jeff Sax in 2001 then narrowly defeated Sax in a rematch in 2005.

Save 75% on a Digital Subscription Today

In 2001, Somers was painted as an environmental extremist ready to regulate homebuilders out of existence. Opponents, including construction and real-estate interests, raised more than $400,000 to defeat him.

This time, Somers won endorsements from environmental groups and from the Master Builders Association, which said Somers had kept an open mind during his second term on the council.

Somers’ opponents said the county needs to attract more businesses to offset its reliance on property taxes.

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 Seattle Times staff reporter Phillip Lucas contributed to this report.