She's Still the Sheriff

On the night declared the start of 'the year of the woman,' Sheriff Sandra Hutchens wins big enough to avoid a run-off with either the tea-party guy or the OC Republican-establishment guy

*This article was modified on June 12, 2010.

By 9:15 p.m. Tuesday night, Wolf Blitzer had already declared this primary election to signal “the year of the woman.” In the biggest statewide races, it was also the year of the bazillionaire, with the not-very-suprising Republican primary wins for gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman and U.S. Senate hopeful Carly Fiorina. In the race for the most powerful elected office in Orange County, the gender thing, at least, held up. People must now, officially, stop tacking the word “appointed” in front of the words “Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Sandra Hutchens.” On the night of the most-watched sheriff’s election in a long while, the Weekly was, well, watching. Here’s how it all went down.

8:13 p.m.: Who, exactly, shows up to a Sandra Hutchens party? The appointed incumbent, an ex-LA Sheriff's Department deputy, hasn’t rallied tea-partiers and partied with Arizona’s Joe Arpaio like Bill Hunt has, nor does she have the plurality of OC GOP kingmakers behind her like Hunter does.

But she does have supporters at Original Mike’s in Santa Ana, even though there’s not much evidence she has ardent fans outside of people with personal connections to her.

I spoke with two ladies who said they became fans of Hutchens because their husbands have for years been on the sheriff’s advisory committee—formerly known as Mike Carona’s Imperial Revolutionary Guards. “You ask her [Hutchens] a question, and she looks you directly in the eyes, and that’s how you know she’s telling the truth,” said Marybelle Musco.

A whoop went up moments ago from beneath Original Mike’s faux-classy chandeliers and animal trophies when the first results rolled in: 56 percent for Hutchens of the mail ballots that had been counted. Earlier, Hutchens—in a dark pantsuit and swooping choker—had told me she was a little worried about low turnout for the election. It’s always tough to tell how this sheriff is feeling, though: She may not be the most experienced politician, but she’s clearly learned to never, ever stop smiling.

  

9:16 p.m.: The scene at Craig Hunter’s shindig is decidedly more coffeehouse than Hutchens’ cocktail party. After all, it’s being held at Java Joe’s in Yorba Linda. Soccer-parent types lounge on couches, and some guy is strumming a guitar and singing Goo Goo Dolls and Evan McCain covers on a mini-stage in front of a “Hunter for Sheriff” banner. We know there’s a punch line in here about Hunter’s candidacy being as relevant as the music at his party. . . . Oh, there it is. The only person dressed for politics instead of mochas is campaign manager Alex Avetoom, a young guy in a suit with an American flag pin. The vote ratios haven’t changed since the beginning of the night; Hunter’s in third. Avetoom doesn’t sound all that convinced as he tells me how it’s “possible” Hunter could overtake Hunt once the in-person poll results are counted.

  

9:59 p.m.: With 116 of 2,084 precincts reporting, Hutchens is holding the line at 56 percent. And Chuck DeVore has conceded in the Senate race. We expect to see some tea-party tears of solidarity when we arrive at Hunt HQ in a few minutes. 

  

10:23 p.m.: Stereotypes sometimes turn out to be true. Hutchens threw a patrician soiree. Hunter: a low-key coffee klatsch. Hunt? Fourth of July in June, of course.

The ballroom of the Hills Hotel in Laguna Hills looks like it was shotgun-blasted with red, white and blue balloons. Black Eyed Peas and Kelly Clarkson thunder out of the speakers. The crowd’s a mix of tea-party poster fogeys, young law-enforcement-loving types, vets in wheelchairs and, yes, a few minorities. The rumors are true: Hunt’s a populist.

That doesn’t mean he’s all that popular, though. The Registrar of Voters website is projected onto a screen, but whoever’s manning the laptop is clicking everywhere except for the incoming results of the sheriff’s race. The prospect of bringing Hutchens into a run-off is looking slimmer with each minute. “It’s disappointing right now,” Hunt says. But, he offers somewhat bewilderedly as he gestures around, “people are optimistic.” He doesn’t say he is.

  

10:50 p.m.: Hunt campaign man and GOP talker Tim Whitacre got on the mic to update the room on the fact that Hutchens’ lead has lessened ever so slightly. And then he said this would be a long but fun night; it’d be more fun, he suggested, if people would start making use of the dance floor. Burlesque is great and all, but that would be a slideshow we’d love to run.

  

11:20 p.m.: Whitacre jumps back onstage and says he’s got a “scoop”: Hutchens is now at 54.9 percent, and the only precincts that have been counted so far have all been in North County. “And everyone knows where the most hard-charging, butt-kicking tea-party patriots come from, and that’s South County!” Whitacre yells.

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