OC Supervisor Doug Chaffee narrowly advanced to a November runoff to try to hold onto his seat, as his own Democratic Party tries to boot him for often siding with his Republican colleagues on issues like banning health officials from joining coronavirus news conferences.

The final June 7 election results – certified over the weekend – have Chaffee in second place, with just 0.6 percent more votes than the third place finisher, Republican Brea Councilman Steven Vargas.

That means Chaffee advanced to the November election by just 554 votes out of 86,330 that were cast.

Chaffee’s Democratic challenger, Buena Park Mayor Sunny Park – who’s backed by the party – came in first, with 3.4 percentage points more votes than Chaffee.

Park received 35.8 percent of the vote, while Chaffeee got 32.4 percent.

Only the top-two vote-getters advance to the November runoff for the 4th District supervisor seat, which represents north and west OC on the powerful county Board of Supervisors.

Chaffee is under fire from local Democratic Party leaders for often siding with his Republican colleagues on key issues like mask mandates, blocking health officials from joining the county’s only coronavirus news conferences, and trying to reset all of the supervisors’ term limits with a ballot measure that was widely condemned from across the political spectrum as misleading.

In a rarity in OC politics, the party is backing a challenger to their own incumbent.

Chaffee didn’t return a phone call and text message for comment Tuesday.

Democrats’ top party official in OC said she’s thrilled.

“It’s exciting to see our endorsed candidate, mayor of Buena Park Sunny Park, take the lead,” OC Democratic Party Chairwoman Ada Briceño said in a Monday phone interview.

“Despite Doug Chaffee’s incumbency and chairmanship, he is not resonating with the voters. And we will have a very strong campaign leading up to November, to ensure that Sunny Park is the next supervisor in District 4,” added Briceño, who lives in the district.

“We will be speaking to the voters to get her across the finish line in November.”

Many of Chaffee’s votes as supervisor have been “very troubling for Democrats,” Briceño previously told Voice of OC.

It’s “very rare” for a party to endorse against their own incumbent like Democrats did against Chaffee, Fullerton College political science professor Jodi Balma said in a previous interview.

“In races [like county supervisor] where we have term limits, and particularly in races where there are only two terms … there’s sort of an unwritten code that people wait their turn. That the party endorses their incumbent,” Balma said. “I think it sends a message.” 

“[It’s] a cautionary tale to any other Democrats who believe that they could take the endorsement of the Democratic Party and then align themselves against Democratic Party interests.”

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

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