Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley pulled out to a substantial lead in the race to fill the Second District seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors Tuesday evening.
Foley, a Democrat, led the field with 41,117, or 45.70% of the vote with 22.8% of the votes counted.
John Moorlach, a Republican former state senator, trailed with 26,753, or 29.74%. Moorlach is seeking to return to the county board, where he served as a supervisor from 2006-2015 when he was termed out.
Newport Beach City Councilman Kevin Muldoon, a Republican, trailed with 9,747, or 10.83%. Fountain Valley Mayor Michael Vo, a Republican, was fourth with 8,158, or 9.07%, and Democratic tax attorney Janet Rappaport was last with 4,193, or 4.66%.
They are all vying to fill the Second District seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors vacated when Michelle Steel was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in November.
Unlike regular multi-candidate elections for the Board of Supervisors, where a majority is required to be elected, Tuesday’s winner will take a seat on the board regardless of his or her percentage of the vote.
“It’s good, not super busy but steady,” Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley said Tuesday afternoon about the pace of voting.
So far, about 92,000 mail-in ballots have been collected, including 3,200 vote center ballots over the past 11 days, Kelley said. That puts turnout at 24%, but it could increase from 26% to 28% ultimately, he added.
Special elections usually average about 25% turnout, Kelley said. The last special election had about 27% turnout.
After Tuesday night, the Registrar’s Office will be counting votes postmarked by Tuesday that will keep arriving over the next few days.
In a district where Republicans have a 38%-33.2% registration lead, party leaders were worried that with three candidates in the officially nonpartisan race, Foley could prevail.
Foley said she felt good about her chances of winning.
“I hope I don’t have a blind spot,” she said. “But I feel we’ve had an overwhelming number of volunteers participate. Up to 750 volunteers. These are committed volunteers.”
Foley said she had a phone bank last weekend with 180 volunteers.
“I’ve called thousands of voters myself so it feels good,” she said.
Ada Briceno, the chair of the Orange County Democratic Party, said she was “feeling optimistic” about Foley’s chances.
“Democrats are speaking with one voice,” she said. “I’ve never seen such enthusiasm in a campaign. I have loved working on this campaign to see the energy and excitement.”
Briceno said a Democrat hasn’t served in that district since 1984 and Foley “would be the first Democratic woman (in that seat). It would be such a great thing to win that race around International Women’s Day.”
The most prominent Republican in the race is Moorlach, who fell ill to COVID-19 in the final stretch of the campaign. Moorlach said he tested negative Monday.
Moorlach said “last week it was nasty” as he battled the coronavirus, but by the eve of the election he was “feeling better … I did a lot of chores this morning.”
Moorlach conducted a campaign event Monday night in Irvine.
Moorlach said his battle with COVID-19 has him even more motivated to “want to get people vaccinated fair and fast.”
Orange County Republican Party Chairman Fred Whitaker told City News Service on Monday night that he thought “it’s going to be very close.”
“We’ve done everything we possibly can with a split field to consolidate support,” Whitaker said. “I believe a lot of Republicans from our surveys on the phone as we call voters follow the same pattern as November — they’re voting tomorrow. I think we’ll get the lion’s share of those for John and I believe we can win.
“But I think we would have won easily if (Fountain Valley Mayor) Michael Vo and (Newport Beach Councilman) Kevin Muldoon weren’t in the race.”
Republican leaders managed to persuade Newport Beach Mayor Will O’Neil and Huntington Beach City Councilmen Erik Petersen and Mike Posey not to run.
There are 13 vote centers in the district available for the special election, Kelley said. Ballots must be dropped off at a vote center or be postmarked and dropped in the mail before polls close at 8 p.m.