Voters Signal Support for Incumbents

Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach) is headed toward a runoff this November with Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel. (Photos by Daniel Langhorne and Sara Hall)

By Daniel Langhorne, Sara Hall, & Bradley Zint | LB Indy

Laguna Beach voters joined the rest of California at the polls Tuesday for the state’s primary election.

In the primaries for Coastal Orange County districts, voters signaled strong support for incumbents, including two Democrats and a Republican.

California elections are based on a top-two primary system that will return candidates with the first- and second-highest vote tallies to the ballot in November.

Fred Smoller, professor of political science at Chapman University, said Laguna Beach residents Rep. Harley Rouda and Assemblymember Cottie-Petrie Norris face competitive races in November because voter registration is stacked against them districts that have more Republicans than Democrats.

“They have an advantage because they are incumbents and I’m sure they’ve worked really hard to strengthen their reelection prospects,” Smoller said.

Here’s a round-up of races the Independent watched this week:

Rouda, Steel Headed Toward Face-Off in 48th Congressional District

Early results show the incumbent in the 48th Congressional District, Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach) far ahead of Republican challengers.

As of Thursday morning, Rouda was more than 10,000 votes ahead of his top Republican opponent, Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel. Steel had 36.58% of the vote, while Rouda stands at 44.05%. In a distant third is Republican Brian Burley, who accumulated 12.72% of the votes as of Thursday.

“I am proud to have been the most legislatively productive Freshman Member of Congress and to have reached across the aisle to make huge legislative victories,” Rouda wrote in an email to supporters. “And, with the strongest-ever performance by a Democrat in this district tonight, I feel inspired to continue fighting to deliver bipartisan solutions for coastal Orange County.”

At the Republican Party of Orange County event in Newport Beach on Tuesday, Steel said officials made calls and walked the district resulting in a big turnout for Republican candidates.

“This is a Republican district, we have to take it back,” Steel said at the event.

She also commented on her Democrat opponent, claiming he initially told constituents that he wouldn’t vote to impeach President Donald Trump and later supported impeachment.

A Rouda spokesperson disputed this statement Thursday, citing a February 2018 statement from the congressman arguing that Trump was unfit for office.

Steel added that she will bring “common sense” back to the office, Steel said.

Republicans view Orange County as “ground zero for the California Republican comeback,” said Jessica Patterson, chairwoman of the California Republican Party, at Tuesday’s event in Newport Beach. She added that 17,000 people have signed up to volunteer for Republican-backed candidates and initiatives across the state.

“The darkness and despair of California Republicans has been rebuilt with hope and excitement,” Patterson said. “People are ready to get to work and take back our state.”

In 2018, Rouda made history when he unseated Republican Dana Rohrabacher, who represented the 48th district for more than 30 years. In the House of Representatives, Rouda currently serves as a member of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Committee on Oversight and Reform. He chairs the Subcommittee on Environment.

Supporters of Indivisible OC 48, a self-described non-partisan organization that endorsed Rouda, gathered at Strut Bar & Club in Costa Mesa to watch election results. Rouda legislative staffers said he was in Washington, D.C. for a vote Tuesday.

The mood under the nightclub’s disco balls was tempered early in the night when early results from vote-by-mail ballots had Rouda trailing Steel by 1.6 points. Steel’s lead was erased by 11 p.m.

In 2018, Rouda made history when he unseated Republican Dana Rohrabacher, who represented the 48th district for over 30 years. In the House of Representatives, Rouda currently serves as a member of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Committee on Oversight and Reform. He chairs the Subcommittee on Environment.

Andrew Di Giovanna said his family was “politically blinded” while he was growing up. Di Giovanna became involved in politics after realizing how it impacts his family and friends. As a field director for Republican congressional candidate Michelle Steel’s campaign, Di Giovanna has seen an increase in the number of younger volunteers and claims that “youth is fundamental to [a] grassroots campaign.”

Di Giovanna supports Republican candidates, including Steel, because they share his values limiting taxes and opposing the new state regulations of independent contractors created by Assembly Bill 5, he said.

Petrie-Norris Takes Early Lead Over challengers

Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach) speaks with supporters Tuesday in Costa Mesa after earning a comfortable lead over Republican challengers. (Photo by Sara Hall)

Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach) took a significant early lead in her reelection campaign for coastal Orange County’s 74th Assembly District.

The freshman legislator earned nearly 49.49% of the votes as of Thursday morning, a blowout compared to her Republican challengers. Newport Beach city councilmember Diane Dixon was ahead of fellow deputy district attorney Kelly Ernby by nearly 2,900 votes on Thursday.

Petrie-Norris said felt awesome to be surrounded by long-time supporters at a Costa Mesa nightclub on election night.

“When I look out across this room there are so many of you who have been by my side every single step of the way,” she said. “You were with me when we sat around my kitchen table and hatched our very first plots. You were with me knocking on doors and talking to voters in 2018.”

“Orange County, we turned you blue in 2018, we’re not going back,” she added.

Orange County is being looked at across the country as a model for how communities can come together to build alliances, said Aaron McCall, an organizer for Indivisible OC 48, a progressive political group that endorsed local Democratic candidates.

“Cottie is a champion for her district and has shown her commitment to making California better for her community and involving groups like Indivisible OC 48 in that mission,” the group wrote in a statement. “In Cottie’s first term, she has not only worked to address veterans

homelessness in Orange County, but has worked to protect women’s rights, and keep our coastlines clean.”

Dixon said Tuesday that she’s was pleased with the direction the results were headed.

“I’ve been consistently ahead of my Republican opponent all evening,” Dixon said. If, in the end the final count still puts her in the lead, “I will be very pleased to represent the cities in our district in our attempt to take this seat back for the Republican party and defeat the incumbent.”

She pointed out that combining the votes for both Republicans received so far in the primary exceeds her Democratic opponent’s total, which is a positive sign for her come November.

Newport Beach city councilmember Diane Dixon speaks to supporters of her assembly campaign Tuesday in Costa Mesa. (Photo by Sara Hall)

Moorlach Earns Big Lead in Senate Reelection Bid

Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) held a strong lead Thursday over two challengers in his reelection to represent Laguna Beach and other coastal Orange County cities in the 37th Senate District.

At a Republican Party of Orange County event in Newport Beach, Moorlach discussed the importance of Republican candidates maintaining and retaking seats in the state Senate to counteract the debt generated by the Democrat-controlled legislature.

“We have to fight for California,” Moorlach said. “We have to give something better to our kids than the amount of debt, pension benefits and all the things we are asking our kids to pay and our grandkids. That’s got to change.”

As of Thursday, Moorlach had captured 49.74% of the voted, trailed by UC Irvine law professor Dave Min and Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley. Foley’s third-place finish so far is seen as a major stumble by observers.

Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) and TV broadcaster Vikki Vargas speak to a Moorlach supporter at a Republican Party of Orange County event March 3 in Newport Beach. (Photo by Sara Hall)

Under California’s primary system, the top two vote-getters will advance to November’s primary election.

The 37th District, which Moorlach has represented since winning a special election for the seat in 2015.

Florence Marie Nelson, a job coach for Westview Services, said Moorlach’s campaign is the first she’s ever volunteered because she wanted to keep Republicans in office. The Tustin resident added that canvassing for him was a good opportunity to meet other people in her city.

“I am not the only one that has stuff going on, some of these people just needed someone to talk to,” Nelson said. “I literally stood in someone’s driveway for an hour and realized we had so much in common.

On Tuesday night, Foley’s supporters were gathered at the Orange County Labor Federation offices in Orange. In her remarks following the early results, Foley told supporters that she would continue to fight for “values that you all stand for, to make sure that families in Orange County don’t have to work four jobs to pay their rent, to buy groceries and send their kids to school with supplies.”

Foley called her movement “about making sure that everybody gets to feel part of the California and the Orange County dream, not just rich people, but everyone. That is why there is pushback against us. I’m going to remain optimistic tonight.”

Some of Foley’s Costa Mesa neighbors were in attendance to cheer on her campaign.

Terri Fuqua said she thought Foley could help create effective legislation to address sober-living homes, which are prevalent throughout the county and reportedly troublesome for neighborhoods.

“I’ve never seen anybody accomplish so much,” Fuqua said of Foley. “She’s juggling balls in the air and none of them drop.”

Rachel Perry noted Foley’s recent effort to prevent the Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa from becoming a quarantine zone for coronavirus patients.

“There’s no one like her,” Perry said. “She’s heads above every other politician. She fights for the people. She’s always thinking about the needs of the community.”

Gilbert Davila, president of the Orange County Labor Federation, said candidates like Foley fight for good-paying jobs so that workers can continue to give back to their communities.

“We need to, more than ever, stick together strategically and organize together to win in November,” he said. “Not just in Washington, D.C., but in the state of California, in our counties, in Orange County, and all the way down to school boards and water boards.”

Foley, an employment attorney whose firm is based in Newport Beach, became Costa Mesa’s first directly elected mayor in 2018 after serving on the City Council and Newport-Mesa Unified School District Board of Education.

Moorlach is a former county supervisor and treasurer-tax collector. He was replaced by Steel on the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley, a candidate for the 37th state Senate District, addresses the crowd during her election night party Tuesday night at the Orange County Labor Federation offices in Orange. (Photo by Bradley Zint)

Reporting for this story was contributed by Abbie DeMuth and Victoria Kertz.

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