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CAMPAIGN '08: CALIFORNIA RETURNS

O.C. supervisor avoiding runoff

June 04, 2008|Christian Berthelsen | Times Staff Writer

Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen, once thought vulnerable to losing her seat because of political enemies and first-term foibles, appeared poised to win reelection Tuesday night without even having to face a runoff.

The results underscored how remarkably her fortunes had improved -- and her challengers' deteriorated -- in the months since the campaign began in earnest.

Her fellow Republican challenger, Dina Nguyen, failed to score any heavy blows. The campaign of the Democratic challenger, Hoa Van Tran, collapsed haplessly among internal finger-pointing and backbiting -- including a campaign worker getting a restraining order against the campaign manager for allegedly trying to run her car off the road.

In Orange County's other most closely watched election, Assemblywoman Mimi Walters appeared to easily brush off a challenge by Anaheim City Councilman Harry Sidhu for the Republican nomination to the state's 33rd Senate District seat, which covers a huge inland swath of the county. The seat is heavily Republican, and the party's nominee is expected to win it easily in the fall.

In other races, Supervisor Bill Campbell was cruising to victory for his second full term against first-time challenger Donald Ritze. And a pair of ballot measures, one to issue bonds for school repairs in Santa Ana and the other to limit home heights in a San Clemente neighborhood, appeared headed for passage, though the bond issue was barely squeaking by.

In the 1st District supervisor's race, with an all-Vietnamese field of candidates running for the seat for the first time, the contest underscored the emerging political power of the nation's largest Vietnamese community.

Although Vietnamese voters make up only a quarter of the district's electorate, their propensity to turn out in high numbers has given them a seat at Orange County's political table. The district covers Santa Ana, Garden Grove, Westminster and Midway City.

But the contest also tested their newly forged political success as voters broke into factions. Each candidate hinted that the others harbored communist sympathies -- a Vietnam-era boogeyman that still provokes strong reactions in the refugee community.

Janet Nguyen, who was narrowly elected in February 2007 to complete the final year of Democratic board member Lou Correa's term after he was elected to the state Senate, was the perceived favorite despite a withering legal assault by her then-challenger, Trung Nguyen, over the results of the race.

She also faced controversy over a fundraising plan to encourage donors to make contributions above the legal campaign threshold in a way that would not be publicly reported; she returned $12,500 in such contributions and paid state and local fines.

Dina Nguyen declined to concede victory Tuesday night. "The night is still young, and I don't want to make any predictions," she said. "But if I get into the runoff, then I will go the distance. If I don't, then the voters have made their choices."

Janet Nguyen and Hoa Van Tran did not return calls for comment.

In the 3rd District supervisorial race, newcomer Ritze campaigned -- with virtually no resources -- against Campbell as a politician out of touch with the needs of his constituents. But Campbell, a popular lawmaker who has represented the region in the state Legislature and on the county board for a dozen years, appeared headed for an easy victory.

In the Republican primary for the 33rd Senate District, Walters and Sidhu ran what may have been the most expensive campaign in California, with the two sides spending nearly $1.3 million combined.

In San Clemente, voters were overwhelmingly favoring Measure I, which would limit the heights of homes in the Shorecliffs neighborhood. The bitter battle pitted residents of single-story homes fighting for their ocean views against neighbors who want to build upward.

And in Santa Ana, voters were narrowly favoring Measure G, which would provide $200 million for school renovations and also make the school district eligible for $120 million in state funds to ease overcrowding. School officials said the money would be used to replace portable classrooms with permanent buildings at 14 schools and pay for repairs and upgrades at 63 others.

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christian.berthelsen@ latimes.com

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