Hang onto your seats, disaster lovers! The dynamics of the 2010 race for Orange County sheriff changed this week with the candidacy of Craig Hunter, second in command at the Anaheim Police Department. No need to consult your astrological chart or the Mayan calendar for a deep meaning regarding the three H's running--Hunter, Hunt and Hutchens. The race is now ripe for brutal campaign combat.
Here's why: As it stands, incumbent but electoral-untested Sandra Hutchens doesn't just need to get a plurality. She must aim to get at least 50.1 percent of the vote or face the unsettling potential of a runoff race. For Hunter and Bill Hunt, the former San Clemente police chief who challenged sheriff-turned-felon Mike Carona in the 2006 race, the odds inched up because a second-place finish doesn't automatically mean defeat.
How could this fact translate into campaign reality? Hutchens, who claims she abhors negative campaigning--actually, campaigning in its entirety--could be in a strategy predicament. If she fails to attack her challengers' suitability to lead the nation's fifth-largest sheriff's department in the post-Carona-scandal era, she risks allowing either Hunt or Hunter (or both) to go into Election Day with energized support that will block her access to a 50 percent-plus-one vote majority.
Meaningless chatter? Nope. Just ask Carona. Once Orange County's most-beloved politician and an incumbent with a huge fund-raising advantage, plus the slimy endorsement of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, he escaped a runoff with Hunt by 0.2 percent of the vote in 2006. Having closely followed that race, I can guarantee you Carona wouldn't have accomplished that feat without a series of blistering negative attacks on the challengers.
Add this detail to the mix: A key Carona strategist and man known to exploit any weakness he can find in opponents is Mike Schroeder, the former chairman of the California Republican Party. According to Frank Mickadeit at The Orange County Register today, Schroeder is already backing Hunter. To put it mildly, Schroeder isn't a fan of Hutchens or, though he did meet with him several times earlier this year, Hunt.
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly