Just as the filing deadline for candidates closed this week on a hotly contested, coastal county supervisors’ seat, local GOP leaders went on the attack against two Republican candidates in the race, calling them selfish and ego-driven.

That, in turn, prompted public pushback from the two Republican challengers, who said the party rushed its endorsement and shut them out of the process.

Yet final candidates are set, now that the Jan. 25 filing deadline has passed. At this point, by law, the candidates cannot remove their own names from the ballot.

Residents can start voting for a candidate in the election in less than two weeks, starting Feb. 8.

They are, in the order listed by county election officials

  • John Moorlach (Republican), former county supervisor and state senator who is endorsed by the county GOP.
  • Katrina Foley (Democrat), Costa Mesa mayor and former school board member who is endorsed by the county Democratic Party.
  • Janet Rappaport (Democrat), international tax attorney in Corona del Mar and former appointee to the City of Newport Beach’s Coastal/Bay Water Quality Citizens Advisory Committee.
  • Michael Vo (Republican), Fountain Valley mayor whose endorsements list was blank on his website as of Tuesday morning.
  • Kevin Muldoon (Republican), Newport Beach councilman who’s endorsed by Andrew Do, the Republican chairman of the OC Board of Supervisors.

Mike Posey, a Republican councilman in Huntington Beach, was running but dropped out in recent days, saying he had no path to victory.

There’s a split among the local GOP officials about which candidate to support. While the county party endorsed Moorlach early in the campaign, Muldoon is endorsed by Do, the high-profile Republican chairman of the county Board of Supervisors.

That’s setting off a battle within the county GOP, as party leaders strongly criticize the two Republicans who refused to bow out for Moorlach.

“We condemn the selfishness of Mayor Michael Vo of Fountain Valley and Councilman Kevin Muldoon of Newport Beach,” the Orange County Republican Party said in a statement Tuesday morning, calling for the party to unite around Moorlach.

“They have let their egos be played by public service unions and political consultants all hoping to profit from this race,” the statement continued.

“Polling was shared in particular with Mr. Muldoon that showed that his best result was to be a spoiler and not a victor.  He told many that he would not be a spoiler, and yet he still decided to run.”

Muldoon is pushing back on that narrative, saying the party moved too quickly to endorse in late November and didn’t ask other candidates to make their case.

“The OC GOP pushed an early endorsement without inviting other candidate to address the body,” Muldoon told Voice of OC in response to the county party’s criticism.

“County leaders are supporting my candidacy because they think I’m the only candidate that can win,” he added.

Vo issued his own statement pushing back on county GOP leaders, saying the party improperly thinks Moorlach is “owed” the seat despite having “no path to victory.”

“The American people are who I answer to. The OC GOP should be ashamed for calling me selfish and condemning my campaign – for I am nothing more than a refugee turned public servant,” Vo said in his statement.

“Let me be clear – no candidate is owed this seat, but the OC GOP is under the impression that a certain candidate is owed this seat, evidenced by their behind-closed-doors approach to endorsing candidates,” he added.

“If the OC GOP endorses a candidate, it is often best to look the other way because there is likely a more qualified Republican on the ballot,” stated Vo.

Moorlach and the OC Republican Party’s chairman, Fred Whitaker, didn’t return phone messages seeking comment.

The local GOP says it remains fully supportive of Moorlach and is marshalling resources to help him win.

“The Republican Party of Orange County is solidly behind and will use all resources at its disposal to elect its endorsed candidate – Senator John Moorlach,” the party said in its statement Tuesday.

The OC Democratic Party’s chairwoman said her party is fully behind Foley in the supervisor race.

“The Democratic Party of Orange County enthusiastically endorsed Mayor Katrina Foley, and we’re in full support of her campaign,” said a statement from Ada Briceño, chairwoman of the Orange County Democratic Party.

“The OC Board of Supervisors failed to take COVID seriously, failed to address homelessness and ethics problems, and failed to serve residents and businesses. We need new leadership immediately.”

Rappaport, an international tax attorney and registered Democrat, announced her campaign on Tuesday, after the Monday evening deadline closed to file for the election.

“I am committed to being the voice of civility and helping redirect our public discourse back on a path that leads to solutions rather than the complete breakdown we have experienced on all sides for quite a few years,” Rappaport, a former attorney for Herbalife, said in a statement Tuesday announcing her run.

This article is part of our ongoing coverage of the 2nd District special election. Click here for a full list of stories published so far.

Republican and Democratic Party leaders have each declared the race a massive priority heading into 2021.

At stake in the election is whether Republicans can maintain their 4-1 supermajority on the board, or if Democrats can craft a more competitive 3-2 dynamic on the dais.

The election outcome will have a big impact on the board’s debates this year around the once-in-a-decade process of redrawing the maps that decide which voters are in each supervisor’s district. Supervisors have a mid-December deadline to approve the final maps.

The 2nd District vacancy has been expected since Steel succeeded in flipping the 48th Congressional District from Democrat Harley Rouda in the November election.

While Election Day is scheduled for March 9, it will be the final day of about a month of voting.

Under the official schedule, voters can cast mail-in ballots as soon as Feb. 8. Some in-person vote centers are scheduled to open starting Feb. 27, with the rest joining starting March 6.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

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