This tumultuous year has proven the essential nature of nonpartisan local news. Every day we bring you news critical to staying informed and active in the community. Join us with a tax-deductible donation.

With voters set to start casting ballots in less than two weeks, a major split has emerged among Orange County’s top Republican leaders over who should win a hotly contested, coastal county supervisors’ seat.

A majority of Republicans on the county Board of Supervisors are breaking with their county party and endorsing Newport Beach Councilman Kevin Muldoon, despite GOP efforts to coalesce around the party-endorsed candidate John Moorlach.

In back-to-back announcements last week, Muldoon was endorsed by supervisors Don Wagner and Andrew Do for 2nd District supervisor.

Do also is endorsing Fountain Valley Mayor Michael Vo for the seat, the mayor said in a campaign announcement.

“This is the big battleground right now for both parties in Orange County,” said Mike Moodian, A Chapman University public policy researcher who closely follows local politics.

“This of course will determine whether Republicans have a 4-1 advantage on the board of supervisors or whether Democrats are able to narrow that gap a little bit to a 3-2 advantage.”

Mail-in voting starts Feb. 8 and runs through March 9, with in-person voting starting in late February.

The county Republican Party chairman, Fred Whitaker, has warned in multiple messages to party supporters that having multiple Republican candidates risks handing the seat to Democrats and their endorsed candidate, Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley.

“The challenge here, of course, is that with only a 5-point [voter registration] advantage for Republicans, Republicans are very worried that Muldoon and Moorlach and Vo are all going to split these votes, thus paving the way for the Democrat Katrina Foley to win,” Moodian said.

“Because certainly Muldoon will take some votes…[he] has the support of some of the establishment, [and] Vo has proven he’s able to win elections, at least in Fountain Valley.”

Wagner, in his endorsement of Muldoon, called the councilman “a consensus builder who will protect you from government overreach and preserve liberty,” while Do called him “a dedicated and trusted public servant.”

And in endorsing Vo, Do called said the mayor “represents the embodiment of a true public servant,” citing his life experience fleeing the community Vietnamese regime to come to America and serve as an elected official.

The party chairman, Whitaker, and Moorlach didn’t return phone messages for comment.

“I believe you are seeing endorsements scattered throughout the field of candidates because the party is fractured,” Vo said in a statement to Voice of OC on Thursday.

“The party acted too quickly and in fact did not endorse the strongest candidate in this race. Luckly, our public officials can think freely and have chosen to do so.”

Muldoon told Voice of OC that Do and Wagner “are supporting my candidacy because they think I am someone they can work with and can win.”

Earlier last week, local GOP leaders went on the attack against fellow Republicans Muldoon and Vo for staying 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.

Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, a Republican, has endorsed Moorlach, while Democratic Supervisor Doug Chaffee has endorsed Foley.

The county party sees Moorlach as having the best chance of winning the seat, said Moodian, the Chapman professor.

“Moorlach has a history in the public realm going back decades – all the way back to the bankruptcy in Orange County, when Moorlach was sounding alarms” about problems with the county treasurer, he said.

“And Moorlach has a long history of being able to win races,” Moodian added.

“That being said, Muldoon and Vo are also elected officials. They’re not people who have come out of nowhere to enter this. They’re also people who have alliances, who have demonstrated they can win races. So by nature of that, they also have allies,” he continued.

“Muldoon was the face of this movement in late 2020…to continue with the Newport boat parade, when that was unfortunately cancelled,” and Vo has shown he can win elections in Fountain Valley, Moodian said.

Two registered Democrats are running for the 2nd District seat: Katrina Foley, the Costa Mesa mayor who is endorsed by the county Democratic Party; and Janet Rappaport, an attorney who qualified for the ballot and announced she was running after the filing deadline closed last week.

Rappaport said Thursday she does not have any endorsements to share, adding she doesn’t have time to seek endorsements as she focuses on having a grassroots campaign.

Here are each candidate’s endorsements they highlighted when asked by Voice of OC this week:

John Moorlach

  • Republican Party of Orange County
  • The Lincoln Club of Orange County
  • The New Majority Orange County
  • Lisa Bartlett — Orange County Supervisor, Fifth District
  • Shari Freidenrich — Orange County Treasurer-Tax Collector
  • Mari Barke — Orange County Department of Education Trustee
  • Ken L. Williams, Jr., D.O. — Orange County Department of Education Trustee
  • Don Harper — Costa Mesa City Council
  • Patrick Brenden — Huntington Beach City Council
  • Erik Peterson — Huntington Beach City Council
  • Will O’Neill — Newport Beach City Council
  • Thomas Moore — Seal Beach City Council
  • David Shawver — Stanton City Council

Katrina Foley

  • Orange County Professional Firefighters Association
  • Orange County Employees Association
  • Democratic Party of Orange County
  • Orange County Labor Federation
  • Newport Mesa Federation of Teachers
  • National Union of Healthcare Workers
  • United Food & Commercial Workers Local 324
  • Valor
  • Congressmembers Linda Sanchez, Alan Lowenthal, and Katie Porter
  • California State Senators Tom Umberg, Dave Min, and Josh Newman
  • California State Assembly Members Cottie Petrie-Norris, Tom Daly, and Sharon Quirk-Silva

Kevin Muldoon:

  • Supervisor Do
  • Supervisor Wagner
  • Assemblywoman Davies
  • Former Congressman Dana Rohrabacher
  • Former Supervisor Jim Silva 
  • Former Assemblyman Travis Allen
  • Mesa Water VP Shawn Dewane 
  • Newport Beach Mayor Brad Avery
  • Newport Beach Councilman and former Mayor Duffy Duffield 
  • Crime Survivors PAC

Michael Vo:

  • Andrew Do, Orange County Supervisor
  • Ron Shenkman, Former Mayor, Cities of Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley
  • Carol Warren, Councilmember and Former Mayor, City of Stanton
  • Judy Edwards, Former School Board Member, Fountain Valley School District
  • Ian Collins, Former School Board Member, Fountain Valley School District
  • Kathy Buchoz, Former Mayor, City of Westminster

Janet Rappaport:

  • No endorsements.

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

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.