The 37th State Senate District:
The 37th Senate District takes up about 1/3rd of Orange County. Stretching from the beaches to downtown Irvine out to the mountains, the district has been reliably Republican for decades.
A major national or state office (President, Governor, Senator) has not gone to a Republican here since 2014, but on more local issues the GOP has had far more luck here. Republicans still outnumber Democrats in the district, but as seen between the 2014 and 2016 races, it swung hard to the left and hasn’t let up yet. These are the suburbs, but they are the suburbs for Los Angeles.
History of the 37th:
Heavily Republican, Senate wins in the 37th district have always been on the side of the elephant over the donkey.
Former Senator Mimi Walters regularly beat Democrats by margins of 5% of above, with primaries being even higher than that. By 2015, when she left the seat for the U.S. Congress, the power vacuum left no viable Democrat at all, with Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach narrowly beating then Assemblyman and future Irvine Mayor Don Wagner by a narrow margin.
However, by the 2016 race Democrats had regrouped with Moorlach barely winning the primary and narrowly defeating Democrat Dr. Ari Grayson 57% to 43%. They were numbers comparable to Walters, but they also showed no growth in the results over four years.
In 2020, numbers point to a slightly higher total of Democrats in the district, threatening to make those margins even thinner.
Incumbent John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) heads into the race on solid footing. Still fondly remembered by many residents for predicting Orange County’s municipal bond and bankruptcy in the mid-’90s and swooping in as County Treasurer to save the day, Moorlach has been steadily moving up in politics since then, serving on the Orange County Board of Supervisors for ten years before being elected state Senator in a 2015 special election.
Something of a California-style Republican, Moorlach has in past sessions brought up fiscally right issues, environmentally left issues and everything in between ranging from tax reform to Caltrans issues. AS a CPA, he is one of the lawmakers in Sacramento to frequently weigh in on and author bills concerning monetary issues.
His conservative tendencies might get noticed more in an election with a slight increase in the amount of registered Democrats, and his lack of authoring fiscal legislation instead of more issues that would more directly appeal to voters could lose a few votes too.
While Moorlach is solidly backed by Republicans with no challenger, Democrats have two strong candidates ready to duke it out. One is Dave Min.
Min is a former Congressional adviser and a law professor at UC Irvine who comes in with no elected experience except for a 2018 run for Congress where he didn’t even make it past the primary election. In contrast to the fiscally-minded Moorlach, Min aims for more a liberal approach, focusing on issues such as homelessness, climate change, women’s rights, and healthcare.
Despite having never been elected to a public office, Min comes in with a large amount of endorsements and support. To date, Min has endorsements from nine members of Congress, eight state Assemblymembers, several mayors, and a large number of unions. A lot of his backing also comes from the world of education, with the California Federation of Teachers and California Teachers Association going behind him, as well as special interest groups such as the anti-gun Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. His list is roughly as long as John Moorlach’s, and for any challenger to Min, the sheer number of endorsements can be an issue.
The other Democrat running is Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley. A member of the Costa Mesa City Council since 2009, a member of the Newport Mesa Unified School District Board of Trustees from 2010 to 2014, and currently on her second stint as Mayor, Foley outdoes Min when it comes to running with experience.
Foley has had a relatively stable time as a councilwoman and mayor, even seeing judicial victories for the city over city issues such as the sober living ordinance. Like Min, she plans to focus on homelessness, healthcare, equal rights, and the environment, but also plans to have a focus on safety and ‘safe communities’ more in-line to John Moorlach’s views.
While she does not have as many members of Congress and state Assemblymembers for endorsements, she carries a lot of union support, including the often crucial California Labor Federation and numerous public safety unions that have shied away from Min. Among endorsements from local leaders, Foley has even more than Moorlach, putting her in prime contender territory.
With two strong Democrat candidates, the Democratic Party hasn’t endorsed either one, because right now, either can beat the other.
What does this mean?:
The 37th District is in for a big Primary election and a big General election.
Moorlach is going to win the Primary by a comfortable margin, as Min and Foley will most likely split the Democratic vote. But the General will be the bigger, as Moorlach and the Democratic winner will fight for not only the election, but the area of Orange County as well. 2020 will prove if Orange County truly has gone blue, and the 37th will be the main litmus test.
It will most likely stand Republican, anywhere from the 2016 margin of difference to nail-bitingly close. But there’s still a chance of a Democratic win in the district, especially if the Republican Party starts to falter in the Presidential election.
It’s a swing district in every sense of the term, and the Primary is going to be the first key to see where the votes are at. If Democrats have more combined than Moorlach, the district is in trouble. But if Moorlach has more than a 5% lead over both Min and Foley combined, Republicans can hold on.
Hang on, it’s going to be close.