Despite Party’s Urging, Republicans Refuse to Consolidate in Coastal OC Supervisor Race

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From left: John Moorlach, Kevin Muldoon, and Mike Posey

Republican candidates are continuing to resist calls from their party to coalesce around John Moorlach, who was endorsed days ago by the local GOP in the special election for the coastal 2nd District county supervisor seat.

Local GOP leaders have been urging Republicans Mike Posey and Kevin Muldoon to drop out so the party can consolidate around Moorlach, a former supervisor for the district and state senator.

“We have great respect for the other Republicans who have shown interest in this race. But a Democrat victory in this special election will bring us dangerously close to losing our majority on the Board of Supervisors in 2022,” county GOP Chairman Fred Whitaker said in a message to party members last Tuesday, the morning after Moorlach won the endorsement.

“We must coalesce behind one Republican candidate to hold this critical seat. That Republican is John Moorlach.”

But that’s proving to be easier said than done.

Days after the party called on them to bow out, Posey and Muldoon told Voice of OC they’re staying in.

“Right now I’m in it all the way,” Posey said in an interview Friday, pointing to the fact he and Muldoon were running for months before Moorlach recently jumped in.

“I’ve been in the race, and I’m disinclined to walk away from a years’s worth of work. And all my supporters who rallied around to support me – I made a good case to get their support. So it would be disappointing to my supporters and my voters and my donors if I was to just walk away,” he added.

“I am not the one who’s splitting the votes, because I was already in the race,” Posey said. “Kevin Muldoon and I were in the race. We’re splitting each other’s votes. And you’ve got John Moorlach coming in and splitting it three ways.”

Muldoon texted a Voice of OC reported on Friday that he’s still running but wasn’t available for a phone interview. He has reportedly been planning a major fundraiser for Dec. 20 hosted by Palmer Luckey, the virtual reality company founder who hosted an October fundraiser for President Donald Trump in Newport Beach.

Moorlach said it’s important for Republicans to consolidate around him to help prevent the seat from falling into Democrats’ hands. Currently, there are three Republican candidates against one Democrat, Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina.

“Katrina Foley is going to be a strong candidate. And if we have more than one or two Republicans…a divided vote means that Foley could prevail. And so that would be unfortunate,” Moorlach told Voice of OC in an interview Friday, adding that Posey and Muldoon are “good people” and friends of his.

As for Posey’s point that Moorlach is the one who’s splitting the GOP vote by being the third candidate to jump in, Moorlach said, “I think that’s a fair argument.” But there’s a greater issue is at stake, he added.

“Yeah they had plans and I showed up. I understand the frustration. The issue, then, is what’s critical? Personal agenda, or making sure that the seat is retained by a Republican? And, you know, maybe we’ll all come to a junction and we’ll all have to figure that one out.”

Posey says he has no plans to bow out, even amid the pressure to do so.

“No. Nope. Not yet. And maybe not ever,” he said. “You never say never, but right now I’m in it all the way.”

Posey has pointed to his experience leading the largest city in the 2nd District – Huntington Beach – including finding a way to fund raises for police officers during the pandemic by delaying plans to add police positions.

Moorlach cites his experience as a supervisor for 8 years, including during the 2008 financial crisis.

“I think the strongest strength that I bring is that I served in the position for 8 years,” Moorlach said.

“There are a lot of departments, a lot of agencies that supervisors serve on boards of. It’s a big workload, and I think the strongest benefit is that i bring the experience. i know the boards, i know management at the county, I know the ancillary agencies,” Moorlach said Friday.

“We’re dealing with Covid-19 and that has a massive financial impact,” he added, pointing to his experience as a retired certified public accountant. “You’ll have someone with the skillsets of an accountant or a financial planner.”

Last week, Foley became the first Democrat to officially jump into the race, promising to “use facts and science to protect public health” and “implement common sense solutions to help local businesses and workers recover.”

OC Democrats are slated officially to endorse a candidate at their meeting next Monday, Dec. 14.

A special election for the 2nd District seat is expected early next year to replace Michelle Steel, who was just elected to Congress.

The special election comes as the county finds itself how to manage a fiscal crisis during the pandemic with sales tax revenues plummeting just as county health and human services have been in greater need.

Republicans have a 5 percentage-point advantage in voter registration in the 2nd District, which includes the cities of Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Cypress, Seal Beach, Stanton, Buena Park, Los Alamitos, and La Palma, and unincorporated Rossmoor.

The voter registration breakdown is 38% Republican, 33% Democrat and 29% with no party preference or members of smaller parties.

The stakes are high for both political parties, with county supervisors deciding next year how their district lines will be drawn for the next decade, on top of their yearly choices for how to prioritize billions of dollars in taxpayer funds.

Depending on the outcome of this election, the board will either continue to have a 4-1 GOP majority or could switch to a much more competitive, 3-2 party margin split with Democrats having a second voice on the dais for the first time in recent memory. 

The redistricting process is expected to get underway in the coming months, culminating with supervisors approving a final map of new districts by a mid-December 2021 deadline.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at [email protected].