Defying the predictions of political pundits, a write-in candidate in the March 5 primary election managed to garner more votes than an Orange County judge accused of child molestation, even though the jurist's name was the only one on the ballot.
With all of the county's precincts counted, Dana Point attorney John Adams beat Judge Ronald C. Kline by a little more than 1,100 votes, according to an updated tally posted Thursday.
The result marked a surprise end to an election in which a record 260,000 voters penciled in the names of alternative candidates to Kline.
"It's extremely unusual. Write-ins rarely win," said Fred Smoller, chairman of the political science department at Chapman University in Orange.
Just a few weeks before the election, Smoller and other political experts had written off the chance of Kline failing to win reelection. Kline, who faces charges of molestation and possessing child pornography, was seeking another six-year term on the bench.
Now, Adams will face Kline in a November runoff election unless Kline is successful in his bid to withdraw from the race. Kline's attorneys are scheduled to appear in court in Los Angeles next month to ask a judge to remove his name from the ballot.
If Kline's name is dropped, Adams could be left alone on the November ballot or face the next-highest vote-getter among write-ins, depending on how the judge rules.
Gay Sandoval, a Costa Mesa attorney, came in third.
Adams and the other 10 write-in candidates benefited from national and local media attention in the week before the primary, keeping Kline to a meager 127,636 votes, or 33% of ballots. Adams won 128,785 votes, according to the registrar of voters' Web site.
During the election campaign, Adams and other write-ins remained publicly optimistic that they would force Kline into a runoff. But few thought they could actually win more votes than the jurist. "I never dreamed that he could be beaten by a write-in candidate," a jubilant Adams said Thursday. "All the political pundits said it couldn't happen. Hats off to Orange County voters who proved the political pundits wrong."
The last write-in candidate to win an election in Orange County was Bruce W. Sumner. A retired judge, Sumner in 1986 narrowly blocked a follower of perennial presidential candidate Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr. from winning the Democratic nomination in Orange County's 40th congressional district.
But Sumner's victory is dwarfed by this year's primary, which marked the first time in Orange County that a write-in candidate got the most votes in a countywide election.
Adams benefited from a number of factors that helped distinguish him in a crowded field of qualified write-in candidates. His name was seen as easy to remember--an important factor in a write-in campaign--and was positioned first in an alphabetical list of write-in candidates that voters could request at polling places.
Adams spent furiously in the final weeks before the election, investing nearly $50,000 of his personal funds--more than any other candidate. He bought radio and cable television ads, and hired a mobile billboard adorned with a "Vote Adams" sign. On election day, supporters stood near polling stations handing voters a total of 30,000 pencils emblazoned with his name.
In addition, Adams allied himself with supporters of the anti-El Toro airport initiative, Measure W. The tactic won him crucial support in his South County neighborhood, where voter turnout was highest, said Chapman University's Smoller.
With the November election approaching, Adams has publicly opposed Kline's bid to drop out of the race, a position that has drawn criticism as self-serving. But on Thursday, Adams said he would drop his opposition if Kline would resign his position.