Orange County’s Republican DA Todd Spitzer is on track to win re-election outright – trouncing his Democrat-supported opponent by a massive margin – while Democrats advanced to have a chance in November to take a majority on the powerful Board of Supervisors for the first time in decades.
Democrats had hoped to oust Spitzer with former prosecutor-turned-defense attorney Peter Hardin – who raised over $800,000 for the campaign.
Yet Spitzer generated a wide lead in vote counts, with 64% of the vote to Hardin’s 19% as of the 11 p.m. update on election night.
Spitzer overcame a series of controversies – including a judge ruling last week that he violated California’s racial bias law – as he hammered a message about protecting OC from LA-type crime.
“This election is about one thing – ensuring Orange County remains the safest major County in California, instead of being overrun by the same pro-criminal ideology that has destroyed Los Angeles and San Francisco,” Spitzer said in a statement reacting to his wide lead in election night results.
Hardin’s campaign said he didn’t plan on making a statement until Wednesday.
Spitzer hasn’t lost an election since he began running for public office in 1992.
“As I said early on, Todd Spitzer has never lost an election and is a master at campaigning in Orange County,” said Fullerton College political science professor Jodi Balma. “He went on the offense and defined his main opponent before Pete Hardin was able to define himself.”
Meanwhile, Democrats are setting up a battle to take majority control of the OC Board of Supervisors this November.
Democrats are on track to be the top two vote getters in two of the three supervisor seats up for election, with Democrat Katrina Foley and Republican Pat Bates leading to make the runoff in south county’s 5th District.
If those results hold, the south county race in November will decide if Republicans hold onto their board majority or lose it to Democrats for the first time since the 1970s.
Foley had just under half of the vote as of the 11 p.m. update, with 44% to Bates’ 23%. The Republican vote was split among three candidates, while Foley is the only Democrat running for the seat.
It appears to be an extremely low turnout election, with just 16.5% of Orange County voters casting ballots that were counted as of the 11 p.m. update.
There still remained an unknown number of mail-in ballots to count – which can arrive up to a week after the election and still be counted if postmarked by Election Day – as well as an unknown number of provisional ballots cast in person on Election Day.
Every incumbent on the county Board of Education – all of whom are part of the conservative pro-charter majority – appear to have sailed to reelection.
But there are still some tight races at the federal level.
Michelle Steel and Young Kim, two of Orange County’s Republican Congress members, fell behind Democrat challengers on Tuesday night, with Steel just behind her challenger while Kim was 16% behind her competition.
Those contests are set to head to runoffs in November, under California’s rules for automatic runoffs between the top two vote-getters in state and federal races.
DA Officials Sweep Election Night For Judge Seats
This election saw the largest number of OC Superior Court judge seats on the ballot in recent memory – with nine seats open.
Orange County District Attorney officials ran for eight of those nine seats.
And they won every single one.
The final seat had OC Superior Court Commissioner Michelle Bell in the lead.
That sweep of DA officials leading for judge included Shawn Nelson, a high profile staff member of the DA’s office who was ranked as “Not Qualified,” by the Orange County Bar Association.
The vice chair of the bar association’s evaluation panel for the judge ratings was Tracy Miller, a former senior DA prosecutor who has accused Nelson of wrongdoing in a legal claim against the DA’s office.
Miller and the bar association’s president didn’t respond to Voice of OC’s previous phone messages asking if Miller participated in evaluating Nelson for the ratings.
Nelson did not respond to requests for comment on the accusations against him when previously contacted by Voice of OC.
Status Quo Maintained in Orange County Education
With the most public attention in recent memory on the county Board of Education and superintendent races, every incumbent in the race hung onto their seat.
Conservative pro-charter school majority members Mari Barke, Tim Shaw and Lisa Sparks all won re-election by double digit percentages, and Superintendent Al Mijares fended off a challenge from Stefan Bean with a similar margin.
The re-election of all the candidates means the disagreements between Mijares and the board could continue.
Shaw’s victory also opens questions on what will happen to the lawsuit that resulted in his temporary suspension from the board that argued he was improperly holding the seat after he was appointed to it.
Congress: Republicans See Initial Slips, Democrats See Initial Gains
Two of Orange County’s incumbent Republicans in Congress, Michelle Steel and Young Kim, saw themselves slip behind their Democrat challengers in early primary results released as of the 11 p.m. update on Tuesday night.
The gap was narrow between Steel, whose district spans Orange and Los Angeles counties, and challenger Jay Chen, who had 46% of the 55,600 votes counted so far in the 45th District, leading Steel by 2 percentage points.
Kim, whose district spans Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, fell behind Democratic challenger Asif Mahmood by 12% of the votes counted by the 11 p.m. update.
Orange County’s Democratic incumbents in Congress, namely the high-profile Congresswoman Katie Porter, all led in their respective races.
Porter had 57% of the more than 71,400 votes counted so far – a big lead, which narrowed just slightly by 11 p.m., over Republican challenger Scott Baugh, who had 27% of the vote, according to initial returns in the 47th Congressional District.
While Democrat votes were coalesced around Porter, there were three Republicans on the ballot.
Early results also favored fellow Democratic incumbents Mike Levin – whose congressional district spans Orange and San Diego counties – and longtime Congressman Lou Correa – whose district represents a part of central county – over their challengers.
The two top vote-getters in each race after Tuesday will face each other this November.
Democrats Led Results in Most of the State Assembly and Senate Races
Democrats led the results in six of the eight State Assembly races on Tuesday night.
In the 68th State Assembly district, Democrat Avelino Valencia got about 51% of the vote followed by Republican Mike Tardif who had about 23% of the 20,502 votes counted as of 11 p.m. Tuesday.
In the 72nd State Assembly district, Democrat Judie Mancuso got about 48% of the 57,148 votes counted so far, while Republican Diane Dixon had about 39% of the 62,975 ballots counted as of 11:30 p.m.
Mancuso declared she won the primary election on Tuesday night in a press release following the initial ballot counts.
In the 64th State Assembly district, Raul Ortiz, Jr. – the lone Republican in the race – led the polls Tuesday night with 33% of the votes counted so far. Democrat Blanca Pacheco followed closely behind with 24% as of 11:30 p.m.
Meanwhile in the 71st State Assembly district, Republican Matt Rahn led the polls with about 53% of the votes followed by Republican Katie Sanchez with about 47%.
There were about 31,000 votes counted by 11:26 p.m. in that race.
Democrats also led the polls in three of the five State Senate races last night.
In the 34th State Senate district, Democrat Tom Umberg got about 57% of the 45,192 votes counted so far with Republican Rhonda Shader trailing behind him with 43% as of 11:26 p.m.
Meanwhile in the 36th State Senate district, Republican Janet Nguyen had a lead of about 55% over Democrat Kim Carr who had about 45% of the 108,933 votes counted as of 11:26 p.m. last night.
Two of the Three OC City Ballot Measures Fail
OC voters in Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Westminster considered ballot measures last night.
As of 10:20 p.m., Huntington Beach voters had passed a ballot measure creating a new cannabix tax, while Newport Beach and Westminster residents voted against measures that would have changed how they elect the mayor.
In Huntington Beach, 71% of the 20,264 votes cast supported creating a special tax on cannabis businesses. Although no such businesses currently exist in the city, this decision could potentially pave the way for cannabis shops to pop up in Huntington Beach.
In Newport Beach, residents voted against directly electing the mayor in future elections. Of the 10,969 votes cast, 60% did not support the change.
Westminster voters also decided against a measure changing the way the mayor is elected — 59% of the 7,058 votes cast decided against eliminating a directly elected mayor and increasing the city council districts from four to five.
In Newport Beach and Westminster, voting methods will remain the same.
Correction: This article has been updated to note that California ballots can arrive up to seven days after the election and still count if postmarked by Election Day, rather than the three days allowed in prior elections.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at email@example.com.