Earlier this week, Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley was elected to the Orange County Board of Supervisors with 44% of the vote, becoming the first female Democrat ever elected to the board and the first Democrat to win the second district seat since 1894.
The special election was held due to the victory of former Supervisor Michelle Steel in a Congressional race last year. Steel vacated the Supervisor seat in January shortly before her inauguration, leading to a short, two-month window before the special election.
Mayor Foley had been the only major Democrat to enter the race earlier this year, while, at the same time, five Republicans entered as well. Former state Senator and OC Supervisor John Moorlach was the most prominent Republican to throw his hat in, with Newport Beach Mayor Kevin Muldoon and Fountain Valley Mayor Michael Vo also coming into the election with significant blocks of support.
Political experts on Friday said that this split the vote in the Republican-strong District, allowing Foley to win the seat despite a majority of votes going to GOP candidates.
“The GOP lost their 4-1 supermajority on Tuesday due to the Republicans being unable to reign support in for one candidate,” Orange County pollster Carmen Ayala told the Globe. “Orange County has been shifted more to more of a purple county in recent decades, especially in 2018 when all the congressional seats went blue. The GOP partially retook some through people like Congresswomen Steel and (Young) Kim in November, which, with a lot of Mayorships also going back red, led many to believe the county was swinging back.”
“What happened on Tuesday showed that they aren’t quite there and that they need to unify.”
According to the voting results from the Orange County Registrar, Foley received 48,250 votes, or 44%, with Moorlach coming into second place with 34,671 votes, or 31.5% of the vote. With Muldoon receiving 12,740 votes and Vo netting 9,847, the three Republicans received a combined 57, 258 votes, or 52% of the total vote.
“They could have easily won if they all agreed on one major candidate like the Democrats did. But they didn’t,” added Ayala.
Many also noted that the Orange County Sheriff’s Union, who were behind Moorlach’s reelection defeat for state Senator in November, had once again blocked Moorlach by funding his rivals. The Sheriff’s union, combined with other unions in Orange County, raised around half a million in funding against his Supervisor election campaign. Moorlach, who has long been an advocate of protecting taxpayer finances from public worker pension benefits, has seen several large-scale attacks by the unions against him, with the massive amount of funding going against him for the Supervisory position by unions during the past two months only being the most recent case.
“Public safety unions can be very antagonistic when you are not in their pocket,” explained Moorlach last week in an interview with the Voice of OC said Moorlach.
Democrat, Republican reaction
The California Democratic Party (CADEM) celebrated the historic victory for Foley this week, with many prominent Democrats specifically noting the breakup of the seat streak held for well over a century.
“Democrats kicked off this campaign knowing that it’d be a tough fight,” CADEM Chairman Rusty Hicks in a statement on Friday. “Despite the challenges, Katrina Foley led a phenomenal campaign, broke barriers for Democrats, and flipped a seat that’s been held by Republicans for more than a century. As part of the California Democratic Party’s long-term effort to elect local people-powered leaders like Foley, CADEM is proud to celebrate this victory alongside the Democratic Party of Orange County and Supervisor-elect Katrina Foley.”
Foley herself tweeted after her victory on Tuesday “I’m so humbled by the support we received tonight and grateful for the confidence voters have placed in me. The challenges we face are serious, but I know that they are no match for the strength and resiliency of Orange County’s residents. I can’t wait to get to work.”
I’m so humbled by the support we received tonight and grateful for the confidence voters have placed in me. The challenges we face are serious, but I know that they are no match for the strength and resiliency of Orange County’s residents. I can’t wait to get to work. pic.twitter.com/KuhonARqJe
— Mayor Katrina Foley (@KatrinaFoley) March 10, 2021
Republicans, meanwhile, conceded, with all candidates noting that too many had entered the race.
“Two Republicans chose to run, thus possibly causing their party to lose,” said Moorlach on Wednesday. “I would be comfortably ahead if they had not run.”
Dependent on another vacancy opening up, the GOP will continue to have a majority in the Board of Supervisors until at least 2022, when Republican Supervisor Lisa Bartlett is due to step down due to term limits, triggering another election.