Can Van Tran Get Loretta Sanchez Fired?

[Moxley Confidential] Republican challenger says he will boot OC's lone Democrat from Congress

When it was over, Sanchez’s campaign declared victory. Yet, before leaving the TV studio, a jubilant Tran seemed to sense the boost in his stature. “I feel very, very good,” he told reporters, even feeling feisty enough to argue with a local blogger he feels routinely slights him.

Sanchez knows about being slighted, too. OC Republicans have badmouthed her as a mental lightweight ever since she did the impossible from obscurity (and after switching from Republican to Democrat) in 1996: She defeated Tran’s colorful then-boss, Congressman Robert K. Dornan, a giant national figure in conservative politics and a man who viewed campaigns as combat.

Two years later, a scrappy Sanchez proved her win wasn’t a fluke (or the result of some imaginary, illegal-alien-voting scheme) by trouncing Dornan in a rematch. Afterward, Republicans—who rarely risk losing any of the other five local congressional seats—sent a series of fifth-rate opponents to challenge her and, oddly, made sure they had no chance by depriving them of campaign contributions. The results were laughable, with Sanchez routinely grabbing sizable chucks of Republican votes. Her popularity fueled talk of her running for governor someday.

But while Sanchez dreamed of future titles, local GOP strategists plotted a long-range plan to end her public career. They employed Red County, a blog that shills for the party, to habitually belittle Sanchez’s character. They used private investigators to spy on her personal activities in hopes of uncovering dirt, party sources have told me. And, as I’ve previously reported, they even enlisted a GOP loyalist at Southern California Edison to monitor energy consumption in her residence as a way to prove she didn’t like to come home when Congress was out of session.

The GOP kingmakers also had to patiently wait for the grooming process to play out for their hand-picked Sanchez-slayer: Tran, who’d proven himself to be, if nothing more early on, an intelligent, loyal party activist who went to the state Assembly in Sacramento to fill his empty résumé. Meanwhile, Republicans have had to endure 14 years of Sanchez: the unnerving giggle, the Playboy-mansion controversies, the annual borderline-risqué holiday cards, the liberal stances on social issues.

Until now.

Sanchez’s vivacious personality doesn’t easily reveal panic. But Tran’s threat must be real, even if TheNew York Times has predicted her victory. On Oct. 15, she enlisted the aid of Bill Clinton; the ex-president isn’t just immensely popular in Santa Ana and among the working poor of the district, but he is also arguably unmatched at producing the political theatrics necessary to increase turnout in the Democratic base and often-idle local Latino voters. (According to conventional wisdom, a suppressed Latino turnout coupled with heavy Vietnamese participation on Election Day could result in a Tran victory.)

Clinton warmly hugged Sanchez, called her his friend, nodded in agreement with her speech, championed her work in Congress and fired up the crowd.

Tran produced his own theatrics on Oct. 16, bringing Sarah Palin to Anaheim for his own get-out-the-vote rally. Palin didn’t talk much about him or hug him, but the event, 17 days before the election, produced Tran’s best red-meat speech.

“Are we ready to take back America?” he asked. “Are we ready to save America? Are you ready to say no and repeal Obamacare? Are you ready to vote no on higher taxes? . . . We are standing on ground zero, where Loretta Sanchez has represented us for 14 years. She has passed only one bill. She named a post office.”

An earlier version of Tran might have stepped on his coming punch line and prematurely ended the crowd’s deafening chorus of boos for Sanchez. This Tran, however, paused to appreciate the noise that could propel him into the history books. To the delight of the audience, he said, “A post office that was not even in her district!”

He waited for the line to sink in, and then asked, “Are you ready to fire her?”

We’ll see how Orange County answers.

rscottmoxley@ocweekly.com

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