Katrina Foley wins race to replace Steel on Orange County Board of Supervisors

Burgess Norminton and his son Cole vote in a special election Tuesday at Costa Mesa City Hall
Burgess Norminton and his son Cole cast their ballot during a special election for an open seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisor’s District 2 on Tuesday at Costa Mesa City Hall.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Orange County Democrats scored a significant win Tuesday, after Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley captured 44.42% of the vote to beat four other candidates to claim a seat on the O.C. Board of Supervisors.

The Orange County Registrar of Voters showed Foley winning the race with 42,280 votes over former state Sen. John Moorlach, who earned 30.91% of the vote with 29,425 ballots cast.

Newport Beach Mayor Pro Tem Kevin Muldoon came in third with 10,652 ballots cast, or 11% of the vote, while Fountain Valley Mayor Michael Vo had earned 8,576 votes and Corona del Mar international tax attorney and political newcomer Janet Rappaport secured 4,259 votes.


Totals posted by the Orange County Registrar of Voters just before 10 p.m. Tuesday did not include 7,802 ballots that remain to be added into the official count, but Foley had surpassed Moorlach by a greater number of votes.

Although county supervisor seats are nonpartisan, the political stakes of the race have been high as the board’s makeup before former District 2 Supervisor Michelle Steel’s Jan. 3 departure placed conservatives at a 4-1 advantage over Democrats, whose numbers on the county panel have been historically slim.

With Foley’s win, that majority narrows to 3-2.

Foley sipped a glass of champagne Tuesday night at a virtual election night party over Zoom attended by nearly 150 individuals, during which she greeted supporters and campaign staffers by name.

“I have never felt the kind of love, camaraderie, togetherness and inspiration that I have felt on this campaign,” she said. “We’ve made something happen here in Orange County.”

Election night found Moorlach — who’d tested positive for the coronavirus on Feb. 22 and isolated at home before testing negative on Monday — hosting an in-person event at campaign headquarters in Newport Beach.

The former state senator preferred not to speculate on the results until all the ballots had been counted, but said he was satisfied with how hard volunteers and staff had worked on the campaign.

“We worked hard making phone calls and reached out to over 300,000 voters, encouraging them to return their ballots or cast their votes,” he said. “I hope that has a good effect.”

The Republican Party of Orange County had backed Moorlach early on in the race, calling the conservative candidate an “experienced and principled legislator who has the experience Orange County needs to address our most pressing issues” in a Dec. 1 release.

When fellow GOP candidates Muldoon and Vo refused to back out of the contest, party Chair Fred Whitaker accused them of potentially splitting Republican votes and assuring a win for Foley. On Monday, Whitaker said he was hopeful for strong turnout among conservative voters.

“We’ve done everything we possibly can with a split field to consolidate support,” Whitaker told City News Service.

Moorlach expressed his disappointment at having to campaign against Republican challengers Muldoon and Vo.

“If the two confused Republicans weren’t in the race, I would be ahead right now,” he said.

Canvassing will continue this week in advance of a March 17 certification deadline. A representative for the Registrar of Voters said Kelley would not deliver the official results of Tuesday’s special election to the Board of Supervisors until March 23.

With Foley now heading to the county seat, the Costa Mesa City Council will have to decide how to fill her mayoral seat for the remainder of the two-year term she secured in November.

It will be up to the discretion of the council to determine whether to hold a special election, which could cost the city upward of $200,000, or appoint a candidate to serve out Foley’s term.

“I can’t wait to get to work,” an excited Foley said over Zoom Tuesday night. “I want to get to work tomorrow.”

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10:38 a.m. March 10, 2021: This story has been updated to reflect information from the Registrar of Voters regarding the estimated number of ballots still left to be counted.