Today, voters will decide on key Orange County races – from deciding who controls the majority of the OC Board of Supervisors and who to send to Congress, to police and housing issues in Santa Ana and FBI corruption probe fallout in Anaheim.
Here are some of the key Orange County races we’ll be tracking as results come in shortly after 8 p.m. tonight.
Bates v. Foley (5th District OC Supervisor)
Will Democrats take the majority on the powerful Board of Supervisors, or will Republicans hold on?
That’s a key question that will be answered by voters in this election.
It all comes down to this hotly contested race in south and coastal OC.
Supervisor Katrina Foley is a Democrat backed by her party as well as the unions representing county sheriff’s deputies, health and social service employees.
She’s facing off against Republican state Sen. Pat Bates, who’s backed by the OC Republican Party and one of the biggest conservative donor groups around, the Lincoln Club of Orange County.
The five-member Board of Supervisors decides how to spend nearly $9 billion in tax money each year – between law enforcement, mental health and social services, homelessness, libraries, and myriad other priorities.
Republicans have held the majority since the 1970s.
Anaheim Mayor & Council Majority
Anaheim voters this election will select a new mayor as well representatives for three districts in the city about six months after federal agents revealed an explosive corruption probe into city hall, former Mayor Harry Sidhu and the now-nixed Angel Stadium land sale.
It’s a race that’s pitting resort-backed candidates against labor-backed candidates in a city that’s wrestling with fallout from the FBI corruption probe – with resort money far outspending labor money in the city races.
In the mayor’s race, the Lincoln Club has been boosting Democrat Lorri Galloway’s campaign, while opposing Democrat Ashleigh Aitken – yet their officially endorsed candidate is Republican Councilman Trevor O’Neil.
The current council has been wrestling with how to deal with the fallout from the FBI corruption probe, which saw Sidhu resign and the stadium deal collapse.
While officials initiated a city-contracted investigation into campaign finances and potential pay to play schemes, a majority of council members also resisted a move to reform campaign finances in the city – a reform supported by many residents.
Porter v. Baugh (47th Congressional District)
Democratic Rep. Katie Porter is looking to defend her seat against Republican challenger Scott Baugh, a former GOP Assembly leader.
It’s a seat both national parties are looking to score as Republicans are trying to gain a majority control of the U.S. House of Representatives, while Democrats are trying to hold on to their majority.
The Cook Political Machine lists the race as a toss-up.
According to data from the OC Registrar of Voters, nearly 36% of the district’s 451,411 voters are registered Democrats, while 34% are Republican. Nearly a quarter of the district’s voters are No Party Preference.
Steel v. Chen (45th Congressional District)
Rep. Michelle Steel, a Republican and former OC supervisor, is looking to defend her seat against Democratic challenger Jay Chen – making national headlines in the process.
Recently, there’s been an uproar from some residents about ads depicting Chen as sympathetic to the Chinese Communist government – sent to the district’s Vietnamese voters. Chen, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, and others pushed back against the fliers as “red baiting.”
FiveThirtyEight predicts Steel is “favored” to win the race, basically giving her a 75% chance – despite Democrats having a roughly 24,000-person edge in voter registration in a district that encompasses Little Saigon.
Neither candidate responded to Voice of OC’s candidate survey.
Levin v. Maryott (49th Congressional District)
Democratic Rep. Mike Levin faces off against Republican Bryan Maryott, a former San Juan Capistrano City Councilmember – a rematch of the 2020 election in the southernmost congressional district in OC.
Levin beat Maryott by more than 24,000 votes in the 2020 General Election.
The district favors Democrats, who have 36% of the nearly 467,000 registered voters, compared to 33% for Republicans.
The Cook Political Report lists this race as a toss-up.
Santa Ana Mayor & Council Majority
Few Southern California cities have taken on regional and national issues like Santa Ana, fixed squarely at the center of debates around housing affordability, homelessness, policing and immigration.
The 2020 election saw a new progressive faction gain power on the City Council, and from there the city became one of Orange County’s most renter-friendly – enacting rent control, eviction protections and landlord regulations.
It’s also a council that’s pushed to negotiate police salaries in public and reform the police department’s written rules manual.
But will this dynamic stay or go after Nov. 8?
One of the deciding factors could be the race to succeed the outgoing and progressive-backed Mayor Vicente Sarmiento.
The mayoral race is between former council members Sal Tinajero, Jose Solorio, school board member Valerie Amezcua, and a 20-year-old resident named Jesse Nestor. Amezcua has the support of the police union. Tinajero has the support of progressive community groups.
Then there are three open council seats up for grabs, whose current representatives have all found themselves on the other end of council debates with their younger progressive colleagues. All three are also running for reelection against challengers.
Westminster Sales Tax Measure
It might not matter which of the nine candidates wins office in Westminster this year because the city faces an uncertain financial future with a potential bankruptcy looming.
It’s also a time of political turmoil in Westminster, a vital organ of Orange County’s Little Saigon.
The fate of Westminster itself might very well rest on the ballot box, argue City Hall observers, as the tax measure would ensure funding for even the most basic of services, like entire police divisions, city offices, public parks and stray shopping cart removal.
Irvine Mayor & Council Majority
The mayoral race in Irvine has drawn a lot of attention this year, with Mayor Farrah Khan running for reelection against a field of largely unknown candidates after a series of public missteps that have led many of her one time supporters to revoke their support.
While the county Republican Party stayed out of endorsements in the race altogether, Democrats are backing Khan despite hesitation from senior party leaders – raising questions about future endorsements.
If Khan wins, it’ll be her last term in the mayor’s office, with term limits preventing her from running again in 2024.
In the council races, Councilmen Anthony Kuo and Larry Agran are both running for reelection against a field of candidates that include the chair of the city’s finance commission, a UC Irvine professor, a community college student and others.
Democrats are backing Agran and UCI Professor Kathleen Treseder, while Kuo and finance commissioner John Park were endorsed by the county Republican Party for the two available four year seats.
There’s also an open question of whether any council members are under FBI investigation, with Treseder openly stating she’s spoken with investigators about Khan’s conduct and other Irvine residents speaking out at council meetings to say they’ve spoken with investigators.
Mission Viejo City Council
The entire Mission Viejo City Council is on the ballot this year in an election that could either completely maintain the status quo or see a brand new majority sworn into office.
This is the city’s first year using district elections, meaning that incumbent council members aren’t running for the vote of the entire city this time, just for the approval of the neighborhoods in their district.
The sitting council’s reelection bids are also complicated by the fact that Orange County Superior Court Walter Schwarm recently issued a series of rulings that found the council illegally extended their own terms in office and ordered a majority removed from office.
Originally, Mayor Wendy Bucknum and Councilmen Ed Sachs and Greg Raths were going to be removed from office, but the California appellate court stepped in and said they wanted to review the case before the final decision was made.
So far, there’s been no update from the appellate court on whether or not the term extension was constitutional.
No matter what, at least one new council member will be sworn into office in the city’s first district, the first new council member since 2016.
Nguyen v. Carr (36th State Senate District)
Republican Assemblywoman Janet Nguyen heads up against Huntington Beach Councilwoman Kim Carr, a Democrat, in a district with nearly equal voter registration numbers between the two parties.
It’s a rare instance of two elected officials running against each other for a seat neither one of them holds.
Just over 36% of the district’s 623,000 registered voters are Republican, while almost 35% are registered Democrats.
Nguyen v. Ta (70th Assembly District)
Garden Grove City Councilwoman Diedre Thu-Ha Nguyen, a Democrat, faces off against Westminster Mayor Tri Ta, a Republican, for a district that represents Little Saigon.
Democrats have an edge in voter registration, making up just over 37% of the district’s 257,000 registered voters while Republicans make up 33%.
But Nguyen got only 40% of the vote in the primary, compared to 60% among her Republican opponents.
Davies v. Duncan (74th Assembly District)
Republican Assemblywoman Laurie Davies is up against San Clemente City Councilman Chris Duncan, a Democrat, in the southern coastal district that stretches from Laguna Niguel south through San Juan Capistrano, Dana Point and San Clemente, and continuing down through the northwestern corner of San Diego County.
Voter registration is nearly even: Republicans make up just under 35% of the district’s roughly 297,000 voters, while Democrats have just over 35%.
In the primary, Davies received 54% of the vote while Duncan got 46%.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.