Big Stakes In Tomorrow’s 3rd Supervisor District Special Election

Tomorrow is the special election to fill the 3rd District Supervisor vacancy created by Todd Spitzer’s election as District Attorney – although voting has been going on for more than three weeks. The result will either preserve long-running Republican dominance of the OC Board of Supervisors or position the Democrats to possibly seize the majority in 2020.

According to the OC Registrar of Voters, 236,026 vote-be-mail ballots have been issued, and as of today, 46,632 have been returned – or nearly 20%. Since this is a special election, there is no run-off: the top vote-getter will serve the remainder of Spitzer’s term and run for re-election under the normal rules in 2020.

Going into the campaign, the main candidates out of the seven candidate field were Republicans Irvine Mayor Don Wagner and former Anaheim Councilwoman Kris Murray, Democrat Loretta Sanchez, a former 10-term congresswoman. While all three have been actively communicating with voters, the campaign has largely been dominated by the Wagner and Sanchez campaigns and outside committees funded by their respective allies.

GOP Turnout Running Ahead Of Registration
Party registration in the district favors Republicans: 34.7% are GOP,  31.2% Democrat and 29.9% are No Party Preference voters.

The Republican Party of Orange County endorsed Wagner early on, as have the Lincoln Club of Orange County and a number of GOP volunteer organizations. The OC GOP is engaged in a vigorous member communications program to inform GOP voters of Wagner’s endorsed status and drive GOP voters in his direction. At the same time, the Democratic Party of Orange County is aggressively communicating with Democratic voters, reminding them Sanchez is the only Democrat in the race and urging them to keep the “Blue Wave” going.

So far, GOP turn-out is running ahead of registration, while Democrat turnout lags slightly behind. NPP voter turnout is running significantly behind their share of registration at just 17.7% which can be ascribed to the absence of an organized effort to turn them out.

Ordinarily, this would be good news for the Republican Party – except there are several GOP candidates in the race. Furthermore, one can expect the Democrats, their union and progressive activists are seeking to replicate their November successes using tactics like ballot harvesting to reap votes from low-information voters who would otherwise neglect to cast ballots.

It’s an open question whether that tactic will be as effective in a low turnout special election as it was in the high-turnout November 2016 general election. Among other tactics, the OC GOP is using digital advertising to capitalize on Republican voter outrage over ballot harvesting to boost GOP turnout.

Government Unions Open Spending Spigot For Sanchez
Emboldened by their success in narrowly electing Democrat Dough Chaffee in the 4th Supervisor District in November 2016, the county’s government employee unions have opened the spending spigots in hopes of adding another government union-friendly Democrat to the Board of Supervisors.

Government employee union on behalf of Sanchez to date:

  • Orange County Employees Association: $243,770
  • Orange County Attorneys Association: $99,605

The 800-pound gorilla of local public employee unions is the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs (AOCDS), which reported having $737,198 cash in its campaign coffers at the end of 2018 – even after nearly half-a-million in campaign spending that cycle.  It appears, however, that the AOCDS is sitting out the 3rd Supervisor District special election.

Howard Ahmanson Channels Ahab
The strangest independent expenditure effort of the campaign comes from Howard Ahmanson – the savings and loan heir and Republican-turned-Democrat donor who has spent approximately $55,000 on four mail pieces attacking former Anaheim Councilwoman Kris Murray. The mailers are recycled versions of hit pieces Ahmanson funded against Murray in 2014 in an unsuccessful attempt to to prevent her re-election.  It’s a carry-over from the Ahmanson-Tait jihad waged in Anaheim during the last few election cycles, and is reminiscent of Captain Ahab’s obsession with Moby Dick:

“To the last, I grapple with thee; From Hell’s heart, I stab at thee; For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee.”

From the standpoint of advancing the Republican cause, it would have been more productive for Ahmanson to use that $55,000 to go after Loretta Sanchez. But that’s assuming logic is at play and an interest in advancing the GOP cause is a consideration. Thus far, Wagner has been forced to couple anti-Sanchez hits with his positive voter messaging.

Sanchez Going After Swing Voters
The Sanchez campaign and their allies are trying to repeat the Democrats’ success last year in pealing off certain Republican demographics, particularly GOP women.

For example, one reader told us their household has three GOP voters and one NPP – with one of the GOPers and the NPP being daughters who live at home. Each has received pro-Sanchez mail. An added wrinkle is the mother – a lifelong, high propensity, straight-ticket Republican voter – is now getting Sanchez mailers boasting she is “the only Democrat” in the race.

If the November elections are a guide, Sanchez has reason to be upbeat even if Election Night tallies have her in a close second. Close or not, a win by Loretta Sanchez would be another body blow to the OC GOP, and add one more target to their must-win list in 2020.

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