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Holding the line means re-electing Sanchez, the lone Democrat in OC’s six-member congressional delegation. Frank hailed her as a “great member of Congress.” Hoping for a ninth term in office, Sanchez faces Republican state Assemblyman Van Tran. After twice battling her tough original 1996 incumbent opponent, Robert K. Dornan, the congresswoman—a prodigious fund-raiser and tireless campaigner who has risen to the top ranks on a Homeland Security committee in Washington, D.C.—has trampled over lackluster fifth-tier GOP challengers in every other election. It has been a conservative Democrat’s district, and in many ways, she is a proud, fiscally conservative blue dog.
Yet Sanchez can’t ignore Tran, probably her most viable opponent since Dornan. Republicans in the nation’s capital have made no secret they are eyeing the race and say they intend to supply Tran with valuable campaign resources. (On a weekly basis, GOP media strategists send reporters e-mails portraying Sanchez as a wild-spending, regulation-loving communist.) Add to the mix the resurgence of unapologetic conservatism across the nation, and it is no wonder pundits are predicting Republican challengers will knock off numerous Democratic incumbents this year. That Frank made a special, multi-day trip to campaign for Sanchez in OC underscores that possibility.
Despite all that, I’d been assuming Sanchez would win handily. Tran has glaring weaknesses, which include paper-thin, empty ideological speeches that could be uttered by a note-free fifth grader. He’s also more of a party robot than a leader.
But then Wylie Aitken—the RFK-loving, red-wine-sipping, wealthy trial lawyer who masterminded Sanchez’s historic upset of Dornan—got onstage at the Buena Park event and awoke me from my mental slumber.
“This is going to be a tough fight,” Aitken said without a hint of sarcasm. Polling may not be comforting the Sanchez campaign. The man who runs a small-but-potent Santa Ana law firm that routinely conquers multinational corporations in the courtroom paused for his next words to sink in.
“We are in danger,” he intoned, “of losing Loretta Sanchez.”
This column appeared in print as "Do Democrats Fear a Loretta Sanchez Loss? Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank flies in to bolster the re-election hopes of OC’s lone Democrat in Congress."
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