Orange County residents have voted out state Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, and seem to have a new sheriff in town, though Undersheriff Don Barnes will have to wait until every vote is counted — hopefully later this week — to learn if he won the post without need of a runoff.
Newman lost a recall fight to hold onto the seat he won in 2016. His opponents backed the recall based on Newman’s vote to raise taxes on fuel and increase registration fees to pay for road projects. Newman argued the move amounted to sour grapes and warned that recalling him would set a dangerous precedent.
Republican Ling Ling Chang, a former assemblywoman, topped the field of candidates vying to replace Newman.
“It was a great disappointment that outside forces of the Republican Party were able to recall a state senator, who was doing his job and doing it well,” said Jeff LeTourneau, vice chairman of North Orange County for the Orange County Democratic Party.
“We’ll see what happens in November,” he said. “We’ll get it back.”
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 this November in a county that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. It was the first time a Democratic presidential hopeful won Orange County since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
For the first time, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent staff to the county to help local Democrats and the organization spent millions on TV ads attacking Republican candidates, banking on the demographic shift and the unpopularity of President Donald Trump.
That strategy seems to have paid off, despite the risks posed by crowded fields that threatened to leave Republicans as the top vote-getters in multiple races.
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.
But Baugh, an assemblyman from 1995-2000, failed to beat out businessman Harley Rouda, who bested both him and Democratic scientist Hans Keirstead in a neck-and-neck race.
Rohrabacher will face Rouda on the November ballot, but expressed confidence Tuesday night, telling supporters, “Orange County, we are taking back America right here.”
Republicans enjoy about a 10-point registration advantage in Rohrabacher’s district, so Democrats view having a shot to flip that seat as a big victory.
Baugh may still come back to haunt Rohrabacher another day, according to UC Irvine political science professor Louis Desipio.
“If Rohrabacher pulls it out this time he only has so much left in him,” Desipio said.
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 and won a spot in the November general election, when she will face Democrat Gil Cisneros.
Trump’s unpopularity among Democrats was seen as helping drive voters to the polls, but a breakdown in turnout by party was not available and overall turnout remained flat from 2014.
National Democrats over-recruited candidates in the Orange County congressional districts after years of having trouble getting anyone on the ballot in some races. They faced the possibility in the so-called jungle primaries of not having Democrats on the ballot in November.
“That doomsday scenario never materialized,” LeTourneau said. “We live to fight another day and I think we’ll flip the House in November based on last night’s results.”
Republicans have about a seven-point registration advantage in Rep. Mimi Walters’ 45th District, but the Irvine Republican won 53.2 percent of the vote. Democrats Katie Porter and Dave Min split most of the rest of the vote with Porter getting nearly 20 percent and Min at about 17 percent.
Democrats also feel confident they can beat Diane Harkey of the state Board of Equalization in the 49th District campaign to replace retiring Rep. Darrell Issa.
National Democrats poured millions of dollars into the congressional races, hitting front-runners with negative ads while also surreptitiously boosting lesser-known Republicans to clear the way for Democrats in the crowded primaries. The strategy worked in the Orange County districts.
The showdown between Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer and his one-time mentor, District Attorney-Public Administrator Tony Rackauckas, ended up with Rackauckas on top, garnering nearly 40 percent of the vote to Spitzer’s 35 percent in the district attorney race.
Rackauckas had been grooming Spitzer to be his successor, but the two had an ugly and very public political falling out and Spitzer vowed to take over his former 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.
La Habra Mayor Tim Shaw looks to face Fullerton Mayor Doug Chaffee in the November race for the 4th District seat on the Board of Supervisors, with Chaffee barely besting retired Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Joe Kerr. Three others — Anaheim Councilwoman Lucille Kring, La Habra Councilwoman Rose Espinoza and Cynthia Aguirre — lagged behind.
Democrats are still hopeful that Kerr will be the first Democrat on the board since anyone can remember.
Barnes, retiring Sheriff Sandra Hutchens’ anointed successor, picked up just enough of a majority, 50.7 percent, to potentially win outright in a race against Duke Nguyen, an investigator for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, and Aliso Viejo Mayor Dave Harrington, a retired sheriff’s sergeant.
It will be at least another three days before all the votes are finalized. Until then, Barnes can’t be certain he’s avoided a runoff with Nguyen, who had the support of 30 percent of voters. And Chaffee’s less than one percent lead over Kerr might also be at risk.