Much of the focus in Orange County Tuesday is on elections for sheriff, district attorney-public administrator, Board of Supervisors and Congress as well as an attempted recall of state Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton.
Voter turnout is expected to be about 30 percent, said Orange County Registrar Neal Kelley. The vote-by-mail response is 28 percent ahead of the 2014 mid-term primary election, Kelley said.
“But that doesn’t tell us a lot because that was dismal turnout,” Kelley said of 2014’s 25 percent turnout.
“So I’m guessing it’ll be a little bit higher based on vote-by-mail data so far,” Kelley said. “But that could fizzle on election day.”
By mid-afternoon, turnout was about one-half percent higher than 2014’s mid-term election, but about one-third less than in 2016, Kelley said.
About 40,000 mail-in ballots arrived at the Registrar’s Office Tuesday, which was more than double the amount on election day in 2014, Kelley said. It also appears that the number of voters dropping off mail-in ballots at the pools is higher, he added.
The Registrar this year rolled out mobile “pop up” election booths throughout the county in an attempt to generate more interest among voters.
“It’s been going really well for us,” Kelley said. “What I’m surprised about is the turnout. People have embraced it. We’ve had 1,500 voters us it so far, which is great.”
Newman is fighting to hold onto the seat he won in 2016. His opponents are attempting to recall him for his vote to raise taxes on fuel and increase registration fees to pay for road projects. Newman has argued the recall amounts to sour grapes and that recalling him would set a dangerous precedent.
Six candidates are seeking to replace Newman if the recall succeeds.
With northern Orange County trending toward a more Democratic demographic in a historically Republican county, Democrats see an opportunity to pick up four congressional seats in a county that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. It was the first time a Democrat won Orange County since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
For the first time, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has sent staff to the county to help local Democrats and the organization has spent millions on TV ads attacking Republican candidates. They are banking on the demographic shift and the unpopularity of President Donald Trump.
The Democrats’ plans, however, are at risk as too many candidates entered the races, clearing the way in at least two districts for Republicans to snag the top two spots in the primary, leaving Democrats with no candidate in those districts in the November general election.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, has been seen as particularly vulnerable because of connections his opponents have made to various figures in the special counsel’s probe of possible Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.
Scott Baugh, a former chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, decided to jump into the race for the 48th District on the final day, starting a bitter feud between the onetime friends.
Before Baugh’s entrance into the race, Democrats felt confident that either scientist Hans Keirstead or businessman Harley Rouda would face Rohrabacher in November. Now that is in jeopardy and it could be Rohrabacher against Baugh in the general election.
Even if Baugh falls short, he has reintroduced himself to voters, said UC Irvine political science professor Louis Desipio.
“If Rohrabacher pulls it out this time he only has so much left in him,” Desipio said.
Baugh was an assemblyman from 1995-2000.
The unexpected retirement of Rep. Ed Royce, R-Fullerton, gave Democrats an opening in the 39th District. Royce endorsed longtime aide Young Kim, who served one term in the Assembly, but Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson jumped into the race along with former state Sen. Bob Huff.
Democrats Andy Thorburn and Gil Cisneros are considered the top candidates for their party.
Democrats tried to talk several of the candidates into quitting the race when it became apparent Republicans could possibly snag the top two spots for a runoff. Some local Democrats were miffed the national Democratic organization endorsed Cisneros, and the contest between him and Thorburn grew so nasty the party stepped in and brokered a truce as the candidates agreed to stop negative campaigning against each other.
Democrat Mai Khanh Tran, who was wooed by Democrats to run but was rebuffed for Cisneros, refused to get out of the race and has been raising money from her supporters based on attempts to get her out of the campaign.
“They’ve done a lot of recruitment and now they have to move against some of those people they recruited, which is sloppy,” Desipio said.
Trump’s unpopularity among Democrats will drive voters to the polls, but it’s just not clear how many will show up for a June primary, Desipio said.
One thing that’s for sure is party leaders on both sides of the aisle will have learned lessons from the open primary system, Cal State Fullerton political science professor Stephen Stambough said.
“This is going to be an incredible lesson for both parties on how to handle and how not to handle the jungle primary,” he said. “I’ll be curious as to what they do in 2020. If they’re smart they’ll start on those now.”
Another compelling storyline is the showdown between Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer and his one-time mentor, Orange County District Attorney-Public Administrator Tony Rackauckas.
Rackauckas had been grooming Spitzer to be his successor, but then the two had an ugly and very public political falling out and Spitzer vowed to take over his boss’ job. Spitzer has repeatedly attacked Rackauckas in connection with the so-called snitch scandal, which led to the incumbent’s office being kicked off a high-profile death penalty case due to prosecutorial misconduct.
The race to succeed Spitzer on the Board of Supervisors has drawn six candidates, including Anaheim Councilwoman Lucille Kring, retired Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Joe Kerr, La Habra Mayor Tim Shaw, Fullerton Mayor Doug Chaffee and La Habra Councilwoman Rose Espinoza. Cynthia Aguirre is also on the ballot for supervisor.
Another closely watched race is the one between Undersheriff Don Barnes, retiring Sheriff Sandra Hutchens’ anointed successor, and Aliso Viejo Mayor Dave Harrington, a retired sheriff’s sergeant.