No, Gracias

GOP bailing out of congressional race against Sanchez

Most would say that's the political fate awaiting the two of them.

"Kamikaze candidates," says Mark Petracca, who heads the political science department at UC Irvine. "In nonpartisan races, parties have no problem not running someone if they don't think they can win. That's why you see so many county supervisors running unopposed. But for some reason, they feel like if they don't run a candidate in a partisan race, it makes them look weak. So you get these kamikaze candidates with virtually no chance of winning.

"We're used to seeing it with Orange County Democrats," Petracca continues. "I remember seeing the Democrats throw poor Sally Alexander against [Huntington Beach Republican] Dana Rohrabacher. The only way she could get any notice was to challenge him to a surfing contest. And Sally was in her 60s or 70s. Both parties do this. The only difference in Orange County is that Republicans pick kamikazes in their 30s, and Democrats pick them in their 80s."

Indeed, the 30-year-old Chavez is the more intriguing of the two. A bit more polished and photogenic, he admits that he always thought about getting into public service but didn't plan on taking the step until 2004 or 2006. He reconsidered after Sept. 11.

That's laudable, but why would someone with political aspirations and potential get into a race he seems to have no chance of winning?

First, of course, there are no sure things in politics. Loretta Sanchez is proof of that. But there are other reasons. One: name recognition. In a race with at least one high-profile candidate, the spotlight may occasionally illuminate the long-shot candidate—how many had ever heard of Rick Lazlo until he ran for U.S. Senate against Hillary Rodham Clinton? Exposure could mean introductions to people with power and money, people who'll be around, say, in 2004 or 2006.

And Chavez seems like a guy in it for the long haul. While Fisher berates Sanchez throughout the debate, assailing everything from her character to her intelligence, Chavez says Republicans must study her. She's been very good at working the district, he says, very good "at bringing money into the area."

She has been even better at "branding" herself. "Most people know her not as a Democrat or Republican but just as Loretta. She's become a name. If we're going to beat her, we've got to learn from her."

One thing they already know is that she's very good at raising money. The Republicans would love it if one of their candidates could catch a little lightning and force Sanchez to spend more time and money in the race than she wants to, forcing her to commit her war chest—estimated at a couple of million dollars—here instead of on helping other candidates.

The problem with that is that it usually requires money to catch lightning, and most Republican money figures to be going to incumbent Dana Rohrabacher's race in the 45th Congressional District, which now includes the more heavily Democratic and union-friendly Long Beach.

It's a daunting task, too daunting even for an überfund-raiser such as Dornan. But Fisher and Chavez will give it a try. As the evening winds down, they even start to sound like Bob Dornan. Chavez calls Communism "the devil's greatest tool," while Fisher tells the audience that he travels to Tijuana to buy his shoes because he refuses to wear shoes made by Chinese slave workers.

The moderator asks if there are any more questions, and a woman, excited, raises her hand. She asks if either candidate could make a 15-minute speech in Spanish to her group.

Fisher smiles. "Unfortunately, no."

"Between us, maybe," Chavez says, laughing, and then adds, "My campaign manager could do it."

"I can butcher it," Fisher chimes in.

There's laughter, and then someone suggests the pair memorize a 15-minute speech in Spanish and simply recite it back.

"That might work," says Chavez, still smiling.

"Gracias," says Fisher.

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