Irvine Mayor Don Wagner was holding a 2,980-vote lead over former Rep. Loretta Sanchez Wednesday in the special election to fill the vacant Third District seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors.
With more than 9,200 ballots in hand left to count, Wagner was leading the field of seven candidates with 25,017 votes, or 41.6 percent, according to the Orange County Registrar of Voters. Sanchez was second with 22,037, or 36.6 percent.
Former Anaheim City Councilwoman Kris Murray was third with 4,496 votes (7.5 percent), followed by retiree and Vietnam veteran Larry Bales with 3,590 votes (6 percent). Former Villa Park City Councilwoman Deborah Pauly was the only other candidate with at least 5 percent of the vote, receiving 3,309 votes (5.5 percent).
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Wagner said of his chances at holding onto the lead.
More vote-by-mail ballots postmarked by election day are expected to flow in over the next few days. All of the ballots turned in on election day that haven’t arrived in the mail yet or were provisional ballots are expected to be counted by the end of Wednesday, Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley said.
Kelley hopes to have the votes certified before an April 11 deadline.
Sanchez said she was told there could be as many as 30,000 outstanding votes and she is hopeful she will prevail.
“(Rep.) Katie Porter was in the same district in the same situation,” Sanchez said of the Irvine congresswoman’s come-from-behind win over former Rep. Mimi Walters in November.
“So we’re sitting tight,” Sanchez said. “My first election, I won the same way… We surprised everybody just as Katie did, (Rep.) Gil (Cisneros) did and (Rep.) Harley (Rouda) did.”
Tuesday’s special election was necessitated by Todd Spitzer’s election as district attorney.
The district includes Anaheim Hills, most of Irvine, Orange, Tustin, Villa Park, Yorba Linda and a portion of Mission Viejo, as well as unincorporated areas such as the canyons in the Cleveland National Forest.
The post is nonpartisan, but behind the scenes, Orange County Democrats persuaded several other potential candidates to back off in favor of Sanchez, the only Democrat on the ballot.
The Orange County Republican Party endorsed Wagner.
Because it is a special election, a majority is not needed to be elected.
Wagner said he was “very disappointed” so many other fellow Republicans “with no chance to win and with no name ID and no campaign or serious shot” remained in the race.
“All they were were spoilers,” he said.
But the added competition helped spur him to work harder, he said.
“It’s the thing that kept me up since the close of filing, knowing that I had that anchor around my campaign,” Wagner said. “I didn’t want to disappoint (his supporters) so I worked extremely hard on this one.”
Sanchez said she was fielding calls on election day from friends who said they went to their usual local polling place, but it was closed.
“I said, `You have to go to the church,’ ” she said. “That was my biggest concern and that had a big effect on our voters.”
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