UPDATED below with a breakdown of the 37th Senate District by city.
Filing for the 37th Senate District special election closed on Friday, and three candidates qualified: Assemblyman Don Wagner, former OC Supervisor John Moorlach and a surprise unknown, a realtor named Naz Namazi with political ties to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (most likely an coincidence of biography rather than indication of any interest Dana has in the race). All three are Republican. SD37 includes all of Anaheim east of the 57 Freeway, as well as Orange, Laguna Beach, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, Irvine, Lake Forest, Foothill Ranch, Tustin, Villa Park and almost half of Huntington Beach,
The special election was called for March 17 to fill the vacancy created when incumbent Mimi Walters was sworn as the new congressional representative for the 45th Congressional District. It will be low-turnout (in the low- to mid-20 percent range) and dominated by vote-by-mail (VBM) voters. If no candidate wins 50-percent-plus-one, the top-two head to a May 19 run-off. Now that there are three candidates on the ballot, that is more likely than not, in my opinion.
The campaign will be a sprint, which favors candidates with resources, organization and name identification. The OC Registrar of Voters will start mailing VBM ballots on February 16.
The partisan breakdown of the SD37 is:
24.3% No Party Preference
Of its 491,205 voters, 253,775 are vote-by-mail voters. Following is a city-by-city breakdown of where SD37 voters live. I’ve color-coded it to indicate which cities have been or currently are represented by Wagner (red) and Moorlach (blue):
Irvine: 21.35% (10,4868)
Orange: 12.31% (60,474)
Huntington Beach: 12.11% (59,493)
Newport Beach: 10.86% (53,342)
Costa Mesa: 10.16% (49,904)
Lake Forest: 8.01% (39,374)
Anaheim: 7.77% (38,157)
Tustin: 6.14% (30,179)
Unincorporated Area: 4.54% (22,289)
Laguna Beach: 3.26% (16,027)
Laguna Woods: 2.65% (12,998)
Villa Park: 0.85% (4,180)
Assemblyman Don Wagner is considered the front runner. He’s been an undeclared candidate for many months, has biggest campaign warchest and lion share of endorsements. He’s a well-liked, non-polarizing, principled conservative who lives in Irvine and was elected in 2010 to represent the 68th Assembly District in a hard-fought primary, beating Irvine Councilman Stephen Choi and then-Tustin Councilman Jerry Amante. He had served on the South OC Community College District for 12 years before that, and ran unsuccessfully for the Assembly in 2004.
Duane Dicharia and Jason Roe of Revolvis are Wagner’s general consultants, the campaign manager is Michael Antonopoulos and the talented crew at Bieber Communications is producing the mail. Wagner has already raised nearly $12,000 in the last week or so. Together with the transferable cash-on-hand in his Assembly campaign account, Wagner’s war-chest is already over $230,000.
Former Supervisor John Moorlach has been a fixture in GOP and county politics since he ran for OC Treasurer in 1994 at the behest of then- OC GOP Chairman Tom Fuentes. After the bankruptcy he predicted was in danger of happening came to pass, incumbent Bob Citron re-signed and the Board of Supervisors appointed Moorlach to the office. In 2006 he ran for the 2nd Supervisor District, prevailing over Stanton City Councilman Dave Shawver and a richly-funded IE campaign by the OCEA and AOCDS, with the critical support of an IE campaign by the Lincoln Club of Orange County.
Moorlach’s campaign consultant is Tim Clark, who ran his 2006 supervisorial campaign. Moorlach transferred $5,300 from his supervisor campaign account and has raised another $7,600 since January 14. Significantly, $4,100 came from big conservative donor David Horowitz.
As for unknown, last-minute entry Naz Namazi, I’ll share what the able Chris Nguyen wrote over at OC Political:
Namazi was a paid staffer on Congressman Dana Rohrabacher’s re-election campaigns in 2012 and 2014. She also purportedly joined Rohrabacher’s Congressional staff earlier this month. She has been a licensed real estate salesperson for 1 year, 8 months (since May 2013).
As I live blogged two years ago at the January 2013 OCGOP Central Committee meeting, Namazi received the Anna Woods Memorial HQ Volunteer of the Year Award for her efforts in the 2012 election at the OCGOP headquarters in Tustin and the OCGOP office in Huntington Beach. (Ironically, as the highest-ranking elected official present at that meeting, Wagner helped present all of the volunteer awards, including the one to Namazi.)
Born in Pakistan, the 47-year-old Namazi had been registered to vote at her Laguna Niguel residence for 20 years but recently reregistered to vote in Irvine in the two-bedroom residence of 64-year-old Julie Tanha. Property records do not show that Namazi has given up her residence in Laguna Niguel nor acquired Tanha’s residence in Irvine. Laguna Niguel is in the 36th Senate District while Irvine is in the 37th.
Namazi was registered to vote in Newport Beach when she filed to run; she re-registered to an Irvine address after the fact.
The Secretary of State conducted the random alphabet drawing this week to determine the ballot order, which will be as follows (ballot titles included):
John Moorlach – Orange County Supervisor
Don Wagner – Business Owner/Assemblyman
Naz Namathi (no ballot title)
The first spot is the best spot, although (in my opinion) that has greater value on lengthy ballot than on one as short as this.
Both Wagner and Moorlach paid for candidate statements (click here for Wagner’s and here for Moorlach’s), while Namazi. Inexplicably, she didn’t even choose a ballot title – which is free. But then, she also did all her candidate filing on the last possible day. It’s possible she’s a decoy (although as Chris Nguyen observes, she doesn’t fit the usual criteria), but there’s probably nothing nefarious to her campaign: people often mount hopeless candidacies for reasons for that makes sense to themselves, if to no one else.
Handicapping the Race
Each candidates has their strengths. Wagner has been on the ballot numerous times in about half the cities of the 37th Senate District. He served three terms as an elected member of the governing board of the South Orange County Community College District (which includes the SD37 cities of Irvine, Tustin, Lake Forest and Laguna Beach. He he three times been elected to the 68th Assembly District, which includes the SD37 cities of Tustin, Irvine, Lake Forest, Orange and all of Anaheim east of the 57 Freeway.
Moorlach’s strength is presumably solid name identification, especially in the parts of SD37 – Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and the southern half of Huntington Beach – that overlap with the 2nd Supervisor District, where he was twice elected. Moorlach was also twice elected county-wide, between 1995 and 2006, every Orange County property owner received a property tax bill with his name on it. To the extent he is known to the average voter, it is as the guy whop predicted the bankruptcy.”
No polling has been done of which I am aware, but it stands to reason Moorlach has stronger overall name ID than Wagner. Upon that will be Moorlach’s (and the hope that a well-funded IE campaign materializes) rest his main chance of victory.
As mentioned earlier, Wagner’s campaign has the resources to dominate the critical battle ground of the early absentee voting. He’ll be able to mount aggressive voter communication program from beginning to end – buttressing his strength in the parts of SD37 he’s represented for years, and reaching out to voters in the coastal parts of the district. Moorlach won’t be able to do that, unless he transmogrifies into the fund-raising machine he has never been. This is a serious handicap in a quick campaign, and undermines Moorlach’s ability to capitalize on his name ID while Wagner’s voter communication program erodes that advantage.
This will be the first really competitive election in which Moorlach has run. Wagner has been in a few electoral dogfights, while Moorlach has never really had a competitive race. While a great deal of money was spent in the 2006 election for the 2nd Supervisor District, it was mostly independent expenditures; Moorlach faced a relatively weak opponent and the outcome was never really in doubt (click here for an archive of OC Blog posts on that race).
Independent Expenditures Will Be Pivotal
IE campaigns will likely play a pivotal role in the outcome, although Moorlach’s chances for victory are considerably more dependent on IEs than are Wagner’s. In December, I heard of efforts to convince rich donor Howard Ahmanson to fund a pro-Moorlach IE, but given that Moorlach and Wagner have identical positions on the issues Ahmanson cares most about, it’s hard to see what would motivate him to intervene. The Lincoln Club has historically been a strong supporter of Moorlach, but since the Club is also engaged in other political issues and activities, the same question arises: why expend scarce resources on a race between two conservative Republicans who will compile virtually identical voting records in Sacramento?
Another variable is whether the OCEA and AOCDS will play a role. The enmity between Moorlach and the two unions runs deep. It’s possible they could fund hits against Moorlach just out of spite for him; after all, the OCEA knew Shawver wouldn’t win the 2006 supervisor race, but spent huge sums hitting Moorlach simply to show members the OCEA leadership “wasn’t going to take it” from him.
On the other hand, the ACODS and OCEA just finished spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in a vain attempt to elect Lou Correa in the 1st Supervisor District special election – a contest in which they have a direct material interest. I think that makes it unlikely they will intervene in an election that is guaranteed to be won by a conservative Republican.
For the same reasons, the Republican Party of Orange County endorsement in this race, nor should it. Local Republican organizations like Conservative Republicans of California and the California Republican Assembly may endorse, but it would be impossible for either Moorlach or Wagner to get the necessary two-thirds majority for an OC GOP endorsement.