Candidates for 4th District Orange County supervisor predicted Wednesday there likely will be a runoff in November between Republican Tim Shaw and one of two Democrats.
The latest results, posted at 5 p.m. Wednesday, show Shaw slightly ahead of Democrats Doug Chaffee and Joe Kerr, with Shaw at 21.0 percent, Chaffee at 20.6 percent, and Kerr at 20.0 percent.
Republican Lucille Kring was in fourth place at 17.5 percent. Neither Kring nor the top three candidates said they expected her to make it into the two-person runoff.
“I think Tim [Shaw] had the benefit of being endorsed by the Republican Party. And I think he had several major Republican endorsers. And I think that all added up to his being successful,” Kring said in an interview after the latest results were posted Wednesday evening.
“Now I have a summer, [and] I can go plant my vegetable garden,” Kring said.
About one third of all estimated ballots countywide still remain to be counted, which the county’s chief elections official says will take weeks to process.
The top two vote-getters advance to a runoff in November, unless a single candidate receives over 50 percent of the vote.
Asked if, given the amount of outstanding votes, she saw a pathway for her to make it into the runoff, Kring said: “I’m Catholic. I believe in miracles. But I’m not a gambler, so I don’t bet on that.”
“Let’s just say I plan on planting my garden,” she said.
Shaw and the two leading Democrats said the most likely scenario was a runoff between Shaw and either Chaffee or Kerr.
“I’m not oblivious to the fact there’s a ton of votes there still. So don’t count your chickens til they hatch,” said Shaw, who is the mayor of La Habra, speaking about his first-place position, in a phone interview after the latest results.
“I’m glad I’m in first for now,” Shaw said, adding he was “going to watch the results like everyone else” and see if he continues to make it to the runoff.
As an indicator of Republicans seeing him as their candidate in November, Shaw said the influential Lincoln Club of Orange County had reached out to him Wednesday to offer their support for his campaign.
“I’m just minding my own business at work and got a text from the chair of the Lincoln Club. They’re sending a maxed-out check to my campaign. So I think the partisan sides are being staked out here,” Shaw said. “That was obviously welcome news.”
“I have no magic crystal ball of projecting where this is going to end up,” said Chaffee. “I’m just glad to be in the run-off right now.”
“I feel that I’m in it. So I look forward to running against whoever the other person is. It seems like it’ll be Tim Shaw,” Chaffee added.
“I’ve known Tim for a while. And so it will be a good race. I think he’s a moderate Republican, I’m not sure. And I’m a moderate Democrat.”
Kerr said he and his campaign team were “cautiously optimistic” he’d make it to the runoff, given the large number of votes still remaining to be counted.
“It’s in the hands of the citizens of north Orange County, and I have a lot faith in them,” Kerr said. “We put forth our best effort, and we’re just very appreciative of the support we had from the community, and the awesome volunteers…It was amazing.”
The 5 p.m. Wednesday update added about 7 percent of the estimated outstanding votes countywide after Election Day, and did not noticeably change the percentages each candidate received.
The five-member Board of Supervisors oversees the $6 billion county administration of homelessness, mental health, social services, law enforcement and other services.
Chaffee or Kerr making it to the runoff would give Democrats a shot at winning their first full term on the county Board of Supervisors in three decades.
All seats on the five-member county board have been held by Republicans since late 2006, when Democrat Lou Correa stepped down halfway through his term to take office as a state senator.
Six candidates were vying for the 4th District seat in Tuesday’s primary.
On the Republican side were Shaw, the mayor of La Habra who works as government affairs director for the Pacific West Association of Realtors and is supported by realtor associations and most of the current county supervisors; and Kring, an Anaheim councilwoman and attorney who is supported by top business leaders in Anaheim.
On the Democrat side were Kerr, a retired county firefighter, fire captain, and firefighters’ union president; and Chaffee, the mayor of Fullerton and an attorney.
Two other candidates, both Democrats, raised and spent far less campaign money than the other four candidates: La Habra Councilwoman Rose Espinoza and county budget analyst Cynthia Aguirre, who trailed far behind in the election results.
Espinoza received 11.7 percent of the vote, as of the latest results, and Aguirre received 9.2 percent, for a total between them of 20.9 percent.
“We had three Democrats in the race, so that split the vote,” Kerr said.
The north county 4th District includes most of Anaheim and Buena Park, as well as the cities of Fullerton, Brea, La Habra, Placentia, and unincorporated areas.
This year homelessness and affordable housing rank among the top voter concerns, with encampments popping up across Orange County, including north county, and larger portions of household budgets going toward housing. At the same time, residents have expressed concerns about adding homeless shelters or housing near their neighborhoods.
Other issues facing county government are sharply escalating law enforcement spending, problems with the mental health system, and Sacramento short-changing Orange County’s property tax revenue to the tune of $200 million or more per year.
Since 1987, Democrats have occupied a single seat on the five-member board for just half of a four-year term, from 2005 to 2006, when then-Supervisor Lou Correa was elected to the state Senate.
Democrats have a 9 percentage-point lead in voter registration within the 4th District, with 40 percent of voters registered as Democrats versus 31 percent Republican and 25 percent with no party preference.
But that alone doesn’t guarantee their candidates win. One of the biggest factors in elections is who actually turns out to vote, and Republicans tend to turn out in larger proportions than Democrats in non-presidential elections, such as November’s runoff, which gives Republican candidates an advantage.
The winner of the 4th District seat in November replaces Supervisor Shawn Nelson, who could not run again due to term limits and campaigned instead for Congress.
Nelson did not make it to the two-person runoff for the 39th Congressional District. The latest results show him in fifth place, with 6.9 percent of the vote.
While Nelson is termed out as supervisor at the beginning of 2019, he has for years expressed interest in becoming a judge.
In reflecting on Tuesday’s election for 4th District, Kring took note of the cost of being a successful candidate these days. Not everyone can put $200,000 of their own money into their campaign like Chaffee did, she said.
“Campaigns are expensive. But unfortunately they are. And the cost of mail has gone up tremendously,” Kring said.
“This is a big district. It’s 6 cities, and you want to make sure everybody gets the mail.”
While she appears to be out of the running for supervisor, Kring has about 2.5 more years on the Anaheim City Council before she’s termed out in 2020.
“So I will be a force to reckon with,” Kring said.
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.