The heads of the Democratic and Republican parties in Orange County were in agreement on at least one thing about Tuesday’s election — they were both hoping the rain doesn’t depress turnout.
“We’re hoping the rain storm doesn’t depress the voter storm,” Orange County Republican Party Chairman Fred Whitaker said.
Orange County Democratic Party Chair Ada Briceno was out in the rain personally knocking on doors when reached by phone Monday.
“I believe it will have an impact,” Briceno said of the expected storm. “But we’ve got to push them to vote.”
Officials were bracing for a second wave of rainfall in the afternoon, according to Sgt. Scott Steinle of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Authorities had to close the vote center in Silverado Canyon because of a risk of mud flow and a mandatory evacuation order.
Turnout was at 26.95% as of Tuesday afternoon. The Orange County Registrar’s office had collected 568,179 ballots from the county’s 2.1 million registered voters.
Republicans were feeling confident as traditionally the party out of power in the White House usually makes gains in Congress in midterm elections, especially in a lagging economy affected by inflation or recession. But Democrats have argued that this year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning abortion rights will boost their candidates.
UC Irvine political science professor Louis DeSipio said forecasting election outcomes has been difficult. He said polling is challenging these days.
“The races I was confident about a few weeks ago I’m less so confident in now,” DeSipio said. “I don’t know what’s happening nationally, and our elections are pretty nationalized now. Where a few weeks ago I thought (Rep.) Katie Porter was up, and now I think she probably still is, but if there is a Republican wave nationally it will sweep into Orange County as well.”
Porter, D-Irvine, is squaring off against former Orange County Republican Party Chairman Scott Baugh. Insiders say the race is close. The fact that outside groups have been airing commercials for Baugh indicates the closeness of the race, DeSipio said.
“It means Baugh is getting national money he wouldn’t have gotten if (House Minority Leader Kevin) McCarthy or his people didn’t think it was a winnable race,” DeSipio said.
The contest between Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, and Republican Brian Maryott, a former San Juan Capistrano mayor, is another tight race.
“Levin could get swept up in that wave as well,” DeSipio said. “If I had to put money on it I think it will be a status quo election and a few could lose, but the incumbents could all win.”
With gerrymandering and political polarization the days of a broad, sweeping wave have been narrowed, DeSipio said.
“We used to think of a wave as 40 to 60 seats,” DeSipio said.
In the other races countywide, Rep. Michelle Steel, R-Huntington Beach, is facing Democrat Jay Chen in her bid for a second term. The two have been locked in a bitter campaign with both sides accusing each other of racism.
Rep. Young Kim, R-Placentia, is facing off against Democratic physician Asif Mahmood.
Rep. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, is seeking to fend off a challenge from Republican attorney Christopher Gonzales.
Correa said he always shies away from making predictions.
“Like with everything else, you should not — and I do not try to — speak for the voters,” Correa said. “Let’s see what the voters have to say for themselves.”
Correa acknowledged that “at a national level predictions are tough for Democrats. The issues are inflation and the price of gasoline.”
He noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the global economy.
“We’ve had three years of very unprecedented cataclysmic events, we had a pandemic,” Correa said.
But, he added, in both the Trump and Biden administrations the country has been successful “in preventing a recession and Great Depression … We prevented Americans from going hungry. We kept farms alive. We kept small business alive. We kept renters in their homes, so I believe as Americans we have a lot to be proud of. We did a lot. We stopped the pandemic, a great depression and we continue to enjoy healthy economic growth, but now we have inflation and we couldn’t have predicted China would be shut down or the Russian-Ukraine war.”
Correa said the “polls are very tight. This country continues to be deeply divided and frustrated as they should be, and the outcome for tomorrow is quite up in the air.”
Correa said he was “cautiously optimistic” that Porter and Levin would win re-election.
Whitaker said he feels confident Republicans will win back Porter’s and Levin’s seats.
“I actually think things look extraordinarily good for us,” Whitaker said. “The results we’re getting calling people, walking door to door are very positive. I haven’t seen this level of enthusiasm in quite some time… Nobody a year ago or six months ago thought we could pull off (Districts) 49 or 47, and I think we’re going to pull off both of them.”
Whitaker said “polling is extremely challenging” because many voters are difficult to reach as more people “have migrated to cell phones from land lines.”
But Whitaker said that early voting results look encouraging for his side.
In 2020, the Republicans were about 100,000 votes behind on the eve of the election, “and we made it all up on election day and pushed Steel and Kim over the top. And, as of today, we’re only 12,000 votes behind.”
Whitaker also noted that turnout so far from younger voters, who trend more Democratic, is not as robust this cycle as it was in 2018 and 2020.
Briceno acknowledged that the youth vote is “lagging … It’s behind. We need our youth to speak.”
So far, about 11% of 18-to-34 voters have cast ballots, Briceno said.
“The Latino voice needs to come up as well — it’s at 14%,” Briceno said. “I’m still hopeful,” she said. “We have the next 48 hours for people to vote.”
Democrats have a lead in registered voters in the county with 682,923, compared to 602,172 for Republicans.
Aside from Congress, Orange County voters will decide three of the five seats on the county Board of Supervisors. Attention is on the race between Democratic incumbent Katrina Foley and Republican state Sen. Patricia Bates, a former supervisor. That race will decide whether Democrats have a majority on the board.
Democrat Doug Chaffee, the county board chairman, is facing a challenge from another Democrat, Sunny Park.
Democratic Santa Ana Mayor Vicente Sarmiento is competing with fellow Democrat Kim Bernice Nguyen, a Garden Grove councilwoman.
Voters will also cast ballots on Assembly, state Senate, city councils, school districts and judges.