Hunt, Hunter, Hutchens: Do you know who's who? The safe bet is that, even after a fairly testy campaign for the Sheriff's seat, voters are still pretty confused by that whole the-candidates-all-have-the-same-name thing. Tonight, though, we find out which suffix wins out for the most powerful elected office in Orange County. With it be the steaming-tea Constitution-humping of -nt, the establishment hackery/clout of -nter, or the charisma-sucking prudence of -tchens? We'll be in the field with updates throughout the night, so watch this space for the answers.
Update 1:41: By the time we got back down to Bill Hunt's Ballroom of Freedom in Laguna Hills, the final precincts had been counted and the race was done: Hutchens 51.9%, Hunt 28%, Hunter 21%. No run-off needed.
Tim Whitacre was once again on stage, running down the list of races that, given the night's outcome, the tea party crowd could influence in the fall. Hunt stood facing the stage, on the edge of the small dancefloor, flanked by fans. Hands in pockets, shoulders slumped forward, pursed-lip smile on his face, he was the picture up upbeat deflation.
"There's still the Constitution," we heard one consoler say. Another thanked Hunt for getting him to become more involved in politics than he ever had been in his life. Tonight was rough for the tea partiers: Two self-appointed forefathers reincarnate--DeVore and Hunt--went down (and if you're a special breed of tea partier, so did Orly Taitz). What to make of the loss? "The people have spoken," Hunt said. "That's what this whole thing's about." Then he winked.
Update 12:43: The lights at Original Mike's are on timer, and it's late enough that they all, at once, shut off.
A cry went up: "But she's the sheriff!" The bulbs promptly went back on.
We walked up to the sheriff while she was mid-conversation with a supporter. "...Electoral mandate" she was saying. You can understand what she's talking about: If she wins outright tonight, that means she's no longer in office merely by the whim of three county supervisors.
"I'm really happy," she tells us. "It was difficult being an appointed sheriff. This is validation by the people."
Update 12:25: Sandra Hutchens is being adorable right now.
On the foot step of a gorgeous, cherry-colored antique Packard auto in Original Mike's, the Sheriff sits with her legs crossed, her elbow on her knee, her chin on her knuckles, looking up at the screen with the Registrar of Voters' results. She's beaming. Another update comes: Her lead drops a few points to 52.4%. She's still smiling. With nearly 80% of precincts reporting, you get the sense that she's starting to envision what life might be like without having to campaign in a run-off: bliss.
A group of already-sloshed business guys just took a shot of tequila at the bar. The toast? "To our newly elected sheriff."
Update 12:06: We arrive back at Hutchens HQ at Original Mike's in Santa Ana, just in time to see the slightly whittled-down crowd clustered in a semi-circle around the projector screen. The laptop operator refreshes the screen; it takes ten seconds to load; and then a cry of surprise and glee goes up.
Bill Hunt taking a break on election night.
Craig Hunter, coffee cop.
Sandra Hutchens, happy and ahead at Original Mike's.
Craig Hunter, a well-oiled machine.
Christopher Victorio / OC Weekly
Update 6:54: Scouting out our plan for the night, we found ourselves getting directions to Craig Hunter's election-night party from Craig Hunter himself. So, how's he feel? That question bought a laugh that was a little too hearty to not be hiding some nerves. "It's hard to say," Hunter offered. "I think we ran a good campaign and I think we peaked right at the right time. But I'm not a professional at this so I don't know."
"I don't think she's going to make 50%," he added. Notice the pronoun. Hunter knows who the front-runner is--that'd be She-riff Hutchens--but he takes comfort in the fact that she can only win outright tonight if she gets a majority of the votes. Get 49.9%, and the race goes to a run-off between the top two vote-earners. To hear him tell it, tonight's a contest for second place.