Friday, April 16, 2010 |The race for Orange County Treasurer-Tax Collector is adding a whole new meaning to too-close-to-call, with no candidates able to garner the support of even 10 percent of likely voters, according to a Voice of OC/Probolsky Research poll.
Less than two months before the June primary, a whopping 65 percent of likely voters said they had no idea who they were going to support.
"It's a massively undecided race," said Adam Probolsky, Voice of OC polling consultant. "Voters just don't know [the candidates]."
Deputy Treasurer Keith Rodenhuis leads with support from 9.5 percent of the 326 likely voters polled. Both Huntington Beach City Treasurer Shari Freidenrich and county assessor employee Patrick Desmond polled at 8.3 percent and South Orange County Community College District trustee David Lang was last with 6.1 percent.
If no candidate wins a majority in June, the two top vote getters face each other in November.
One explanation for the indecision is current Treasurer Chriss Street's abrupt departure from the race in March after a federal judge ordered that he pay $7 million in a civil fraud case.
The case had to do with his work as a bankruptcy trustee for a trucking company before he became county treasurer. As trustee for the bankrupt Fruehauf Trailer Corp., Street was supposed to liquidate its assets. Instead, according to the court findings, he spent millions of the company's funds trying to revive it.
He's appealing the decision. But, in the meantime, he's had his wages garnished and the Board of Supervisors has stripped him of his power to invest public funds.
As a result of Street's departure the electorate is left with three virtually unknown candidates to choose from. And, even in normal circumstances, treasurer is not a race that is high on voters' radar screens.
In the 2006 primary, according to the California Secretary of State, only 27.6 percent (about 408,000) of Orange County's eligible voters cast ballots.
According to a number of political and campaign experts, the only way to effectively reach large numbers of Orange County voters in a local race is through the mail. To design, print and mail a single piece of campaign literature, estimated Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach, a former Treasurer, costs about $1 per voter.
"None of these candidates are going to have the money to talk to hundreds of thousands of voters," predicted Probolsky.
As of the last required campaign fundraising disclosure reports in March, only Freidenrich reported raising money, and that was just $29,500, including $5,000 she loaned her own campaign.
For Lang, a CPA, the poll numbers didn't "surprise me a bit. Essentially the field is really wide open for any of us."
"There's probably going to be a runoff," said Desmond, who ran against Street in 2006. "That's pretty obvious."
The election should be a "job interview" for someone responsible for managing the county's $6 billion-plus treasury, said Moorlach, who appointed treasurer in 1995 after Robert Citron hurled the county into the biggest municipal bankruptcy in the nation's history.
The voters should look for someone with "integrity, competence and experience," added Moorlach, who, ironically, pushed for Street to succeed him in 2006.
But Desmond and others said the single-digit support for all three candidates indicates that voters have little knowledge about the qualifications of any of them.
"People don't read the paper anymore," said Desmond, adding that he's counting on many of the voters who supported him four years ago to remember his name and vote for him again.
Probolsky said in a race where candidates are this obscure so close to election day, voters most likely will make their decisions based on what they read in the sample ballot pamphlet that the Registrar of Voters sends out in May.
If this is true it does not bode well for Desmond. He was the only candidate who chose not to pay the $22,111 to have a statement about him included in the voter pamphlet.
Another influence on voters will be the professional title that is printed after the candidates' names on the ballot. Rodenhuis will be listed as "Deputy Treasurer, County of Orange," which will likely help him.
"I think people want someone who has experience in the treasurer's office," he said.
Freidenrich may benefit among voters in Huntington Beach because she has been on the ballot there before because treasurer is an elected city position. Her ballot title in June will be "Treasurer, City of Huntington Beach."
"I'm the only candidate elected as a treasurer," she said. "My goal is to educate voters on the qualifications over the next (almost) two months."
She also has a long list of endorsements including Republican congressmen Dana Rohrabacher, Ed Royce and John Campbell, and County Supervisors Moorlach and Bill Campbell.
The telephone poll conducted between April 6 and April 11. Voters were asked, if the election for Orange County Treasurer/Tax Collector were held today, for whom would you vote? The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.6 percent.