The first round of election night results show Orange County DA Todd Spitzer trouncing his three challengers seeking to control one of the most powerful offices in the region – and possibly on track to win the race outright without a runoff.
Spitzer, who was endorsed by the OC Republican Party, was leading 62% to criminal defense attorney Peter Hardin’s 20%, in the first results posted at 8:05 p.m.
The other two challengers – U.S. Department of Justice lawyer Bryan Chehock and former DA prosecutor Mike Jacobs – trailed at 10% and 8%, respectively.
About 253,000 ballots have been counted so far, representing 14% of all registered voters in OC – though additional ballots will be counted and reported later this evening and in the coming days.
If Spitzer’s lead ends up about 50% of the vote after all ballots are counted, he will not face a runoff in November.
No local race drew as much attention in the primary election cycle as District Attorney, one of the most powerful positions in Orange County.
The DA gets to decide who gets prosecuted, who doesn’t, what kind of deals defendants get, and what types of crime get prioritized for prosecution – from low-level drug offenses to hate crimes to murder.
Spitzer ran on a platform of being tough on violent crime and protecting Orange County residents from the kind of LA crime wave he says is happening under LA County’s progressive DA George Gascón.
Hardin ran on a platform of criminal justice reform, including diversion programs for defendants dealing with mental health, drug and alcohol issues; ending the death penalty; and putting decisions on prosecuting police under an independent watchdog rather than the DA’s office.
The next round of results is expected at 9:30 p.m. and every half hour until late in the evening.
After that, county election officials plan to post updates once every day at 5 p.m. until all ballots are counted.
In California, mail-in ballots can be received by election officials up to a week after the election and still be counted if postmarked by Election Day.
Incumbent DA Todd Spitzer swept into office in early 2019 on a message of cleaning up the DA’s office from the stain of an informants scandal that caused multiple murder convictions to be overturned.
Since then, he’s faced a series of controversies, including a wave of legal claims and memos by DA prosecutors alleging he complicated a mass shooting case by lying to an investigator, made racist comments when deciding whether to pursue the death penalty, and tried to retaliate against a female DA staffer who came forward about sexual harassment by a friend of Spitzer’s.
Spitzer, who is endorsed by the county Republican Party, has denied the allegations.
His only challenger who mounted a significant campaign – Hardin – also has faced his own controversy centered on the year or so he previously worked at the DA’s office.
A memo by Hardin’s then-supervisor raised concerns about Hardin developing a reputation as a “womanizer” who tried to date a former defendant and a witness in cases he prosecuted, and allegedly tried to break into the home of his mother’s child.
Hardin has denied those allegations, saying he was never confronted with them at the time. But his supervisor’s supervisor told Voice of OC he was a direct witness to the concerns being directly raised with Hardin at the time.
The two other candidates – former DA prosecutor Mike Jacobs and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration lawyer Bryan Chehock – did not mount the kind of significant campaign resources typically needed to win a countywide election. Both said they would bring fresh perspective to a DA’s office racked by scandals.
When Voice of OC asked readers what questions they want put to candidates, the most-requested question was whether they believe the last presidential election was stolen.
Hardin and Chehock said “No,” and Jacobs said “Yes.”
Spitzer didn’t answer, calling the question “irrelevant” and instead criticized Hardin as being part of a “woke criminal justice movement” that puts public safety at risk.
Hardin criticized Spitzer on Twitter for not answering the question, pointing to a Politico article on recordings of national Republican Party strategists talking about creating a network of GOP-friendly DAs who could block vote counts in Democratic voter precincts.
Spitzer, meanwhile, has been reiterating his message that Hardin would make OC less safe – with the DA retweeting a post from the state GOP chair saying “Smash and grabs will continue to be the ‘norm’ in California until soft-on-crime, woke District Attorneys are voted out of office.”
“It’s time to make crime illegal again.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.