Orange County is home to several of the most competitive races for state Senate and Assembly being closely watched – and spent heavily on – statewide as Democrats and Republicans battle over seats in the Democrat-dominated Legislature.
Of the races being watched closely statewide, about half of them are in Orange County, where demographic and political shifts have turned a Republican stronghold into a much more competitive purple county.
Among them are the 68th Assembly District race between Stephen Choi and Melissa Fox, the 29th Senate District rematch between Ling Ling Chang and Josh Newman, and the 37th Senate District contest between John Moorlach and Dave Min.
Here’s a rundown Orange County’s key races for state Legislature:
State Senate, 29th District
Chang is facing off with Newman after her 2018 defeat of him in a recall election, which eliminated the Democrat supermajority in the state Senate.
Now the two are gearing up for a rematch in a key swing district statewide that’s drawing millions of dollars in spending.
Newman has raised about three times as much as Chang, with $3.2 million to her $1.1 million, according to the latest complete campaign finance disclosures, which run through mid-October.
In the March primary, Chang got around 48 percent of the vote, while Newman won about 35 percent of the vote, beating out Democrat and businessman Joseph Cho who won about 17 percent of the vote.
Of the registered voters in the district, about 39 percent of them are Democrats, about 31 percent are Republicans and about 25 percent are no party preference voters, according to state data.
Chang co authored a bill to stop price gouging during the pandemic. Newman is running on a campaign promising to reduce homelessness.
State Senate, 37th District
Moorlach, the Republican incumbent, is racing against newcomer Min in the 37th State District in one of the county’s largest state senate districts, stretching from Anaheim to Laguna Beach.
Min has never held elected office, citing his experience as a law professor at UC Irvine and senior congressional adviser as his credentials. He’s largely walked the party line, calling for Medicare for All and renewed action on climate change, pointing to COVID-19 and the recent wildfires as a reason that major change needs to be made at the state level.
Moorlach has been a major figure in Orange County since the 1990s, when he was appointed as county treasurer following the county’s bankruptcy. He went on to serve on the county board of supervisors, and came into the state senate in a special election in 2015.
His primary qualifications he shows to voters are his experience in public finance and his work on helping with mental health services at the county and state level for the homeless.
Democrats are also heavily investing in Min’s race, with over $870,000 from the state party along with thousands more from smaller organizations in Orange County and the Central Valley. In total, Min brought in over $2.2 million this year for his race, largely from subsidiaries of the party and unions, as of the latest complete disclosures in mid-October.
Moorlach had brought in $1.4 million at that point, with major investments from the state Republicans, insurance companies, and several large tech companies including Google, Facebook and AT&T. Some of the largest spending in the race has been the state prison guards’ union, which has put $1.2 million into defeating Moorlach.
State Assembly, 65th District
In this heavily Democratic district (42 percent Democrat to 29 percent Republican), incumbent Democrat Sharon Quirk-Silva is being challenged by Republican Cynthia Thacker, a retired businesswoman.
Quirk-Silva had raised $390,000 as of mid-October, while Thacker had not reported any fundraising.
State Assembly, 68th District
Choi, the Republican incumbent, is facing one of his toughest challenges in years from Fox, an Irvine councilwoman, in a district where voter registration between the two parties is almost dead even.
Choi has taken his party’s stance on a variety of hot issues this election – including maintaining funding for law enforcement – and voted against AB-5, the law that put more requirements on Uber and Lyft to not treat drivers as independent contractors.
Fox has been the polar opposite of Choi on nearly every issue, and has repeatedly asked for discussions at the local level on state initiatives. She was also one of the leading voices behind the city of Irvine recognizing national pride month, and has been one of the loudest liberal voices on the council.
Fox is also ahead of Choi in fundraising, bringing in over $2.1 million through mid-October year according to campaign finance disclosures, most of which came from the California Democratic Party’s $1.2 million in donations to her. The 68th District has been in Republican control for the past decade.
Choi brought in just over $800,000 for the year.
State Assembly, 69th District
In this heavily Democratic district (52 percent Democrat to 18 percent Republican), incumbent Democrat Tom Daly is challenged by Republican Jon Paul White. Daly has brought in $420,000 as of mid-October, while White has not reported receiving any campaign funds.
State Assembly, 72nd District
In contention for this seat are former Republican state senator and former Garden Grove council member Janet Nguyen, and current Democratic Garden Grove Councilwoman Deidre Nguyen.
Both are two Vietnamese American women facing off for a seat currently held by Republican Tyler Diep, who sought reelection but was knocked out during the March primary amid tension between himself and the county GOP over his labor union-friendly votes in Sacramento.
The district includes Little Saigon and contains a vast Asian and Vietnamese American population, with 36 percent of voters registered as Republicans and 34 percent registered as Democrats.
In March, Janet Nguyen — the top vote getter in the primary race — pulled nearly 34 percent of the vote while Deidre Nguyen pulled 25 percent.
State Assembly, 73rd District
The race for this seat also comes after its incumbent, Republican Bill Brough, was knocked out in the March primary in the wake of sexual harassment allegations leveled at him last year by two women, which he’s denied, as well as claims he misused campaign funds.
Now the race this November is between two challengers: Republican Laguna Niguel Mayor Laurie Davies, and Democratic LGBTQ+ advocate and political activist Scott Rhinehart.
Republicans hold a wide advantage in voter registration, with nearly 41 percent of registered voters in the district compared to Democrats’ 31 percent.
In the primary, Davies led with 27 percent of the vote. Rhinehart got 23 percent.
State Assembly, 74th District
Democrat incumbent Cottie Petrie-Norris will square off against Newport Beach City Councilmember Diane Dixon for the district’s assembly seat, which was among the most competitive Assembly seats statewide in 2018.
In March, Petrie-Norris got the majority of the votes during the primary race with 52 percent of the vote while Dixon won 25 percent of the vote knocking out Republican Kelly Ernby, who works for the OC District Attorney’s office, from the running. Ernby had about 22 percent of the vote.
Petrie-Norris raised over $2 million as of mid-October, while Dixon had raised $565,000, according to campaign finance disclosures.
Of the registered voters in the district, about 35 percent are registered Democrats and about 35 percent are registered Republicans. About 25 percent of voters in this district have registered as no party preference voters, according to county data.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at [email protected].