Democrats have flipped a Republican seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, as former county Supervisor John Moorlach conceded the race to Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley on Tuesday night.

If her lead holds, it will be the first time in decades that Democrats have two seats on the powerful board that impacts everything from homelessness to mental health services to the pandemic.

Foley led the field with 44% of the ballots reported in the final election night update at 10 p.m., followed by Republican John Moorlach, a former supervisor, with 31%.

Based on estimates from election officials, the election night results reflect more than 86% of the total ballots expected in the election.

Following the 10 p.m. update, Moorlach told Voice of OC he conceded to Foley in a voicemail message.

At a virtual election night party over video chat, Foley was overjoyed after what she called a hard-fought campaign where she and her supporters raised $500,000 in three months.

Katrina Foley celebrates after the first round of election results showed her with a wide lead on March 9, 2021. Credit: Zoom livestream

“I never have felt the kind of love, camaraderie, togetherness and just inspiration that I have felt in this campaign. And I hope you all shared that,” Foley said as she thanked her supporters.

“I really believe that we made something happen here in Orange County with this campaign,” said Foley, whom Democrats say would be the first woman Democrat ever elected to countywide office.

Foley’s lead, if it holds, could trigger a special election for Costa Mesa mayor’s seat.

Two other Republican challengers – Newport Beach Councilman Kevin Muldoon and Fountain Valley Mayor Michael Vo – each got about 10% of the vote as of the latest results. Another Democrat in the race, Janet Rappaport, had a little under 5% of the early returns.

Earlier in the night, Moorlach expressed frustration to Voice of OC about the other Republicans who refused to step out of the race. Moorlach said they deserve credit for Foley’s lead.

“Two Republicans chose to run, thus possibly causing their party to lose,” Moorlach told Voice of OC in a text message while election night results were still rolling in.

“I would be comfortably ahead if they had not run,” he added.

One of those candidates pushed back late Tuesday night, saying Moorlach is the one who actually cost Republicans the seat.

“We came across countless voters that refused to vote for Moorlach and chose to vote for relatively unknown candidates instead,” Muldoon said in a statement to Voice of OC.

“This is Moorlach’s second time costing Republicans a safe seat that he should have won considering he had the party’s endorsement. Disappointing that he got in the race after me and is blaming others for another one of his losses.”

Vo didn’t return a phone message for comment.

The final tally isn’t expected for a few more days, with mail-in ballots allowed to arrive as late as Friday and still count, as long as they were in the mail by Election Day.

Due to Tuesday’s results from voters, Republicans have now lost their 4-1 supermajority status and Foley’s win introduces a new era on the board, one with a competitive 3-2 partisan dynamic on the dais for the first time in decades.

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 race pit three Republican current and former elected officials (Moorlach, Muldoon and Vo) against one Democrat elected official (Foley) and one attorney who’s registered to vote as Democrat (Rappaport).

Campaign spending was dominated by union-funded ads against Moorlach, with the OC sheriff deputies’ union spending the most in an effort to block him from winning.

The supportive spending for Foley came from unions representing OC Fire Authority firefighters and hotel and restaurant workers.

The opposition to Foley was mainly funded by conservative and GOP groups like the Lincoln Club of Orange County and former California GOP Chairman Mike Schroeder.

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

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