If Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez hoped to enjoy watching a wildly bloody primary to determine her November Republican general election opponent, that scenario has become less likely this morning. Quang Pham--the well-spoken, first-time candidate who has been vying for the GOP nomination against Assemblyman Van Tran, Tan Nguyen and Kathy Smith--announced today that he's no longer a candidate.
"Winning a seat in Congress requires a full commitment of time and money," said Pham, who served as a Marine before becoming CEO of his own company, Lathian Health. "Yet, my employees and my business now need all of my focus. So, after careful consideration, I have decided to suspend my candidacy in the race for the Republican nomination in the 47th Congressional District."
A fiscal conservative, Pham tells me that Lathian Health, his family's chief source of income, is at a pivotal moment and that it's "become increasingly clear" that he wouldn't be able to focus his attention solely on the campaign.
"Most of you who know me understand that less than 100 percent commitment to any activity I do is not an option," he said.
A second factor influenced Pham's decision. "The dynamics of the race have changed significantly," he said.
That is, in part, a reference to Tan Nguyen's recent surprise entrance into the primary. Nguyen is the controversial but crushed 2008 Sanchez challenger awaiting federal trial for allegedly violating laws in that race by secretly funding a voting-could-get-you-arrested letter sent to households with Latino names. Tran, Pham and Nguyen would have likely diluted electoral support, leaving Smith the sole beneficiary.
Pham's foray into the contest last summer wasn't welcomed news in some establishment Orange County Republican circles, which unofficially dictate that would-be candidates must kiss and polish the pinky rings of party bosses before running. Tran expertly performed this task. An independent Pham didn't. That's no surprise: Pham has proven to be self-reliant. The former Marine helicopter combat pilot is a successful business owner, author and public speaker.
At a recent California Republican Assembly convention in Costa Mesa, Pham came within a single vote of blocking Tran's endorsement even though he didn't cave to pressure to espouse rabidly anti-abortion and anti-gay sentiments. Indeed, when Pham told the gathering that he believes marriage is between a man and a woman but does not discriminate on sexual orientation at his company, some attendees booed and hissed. Tran won applause by saying he'd vigorously oppose "the gay and lesbian agenda."
"Hey, you've got to give me credit for not running from my principles," Pham told me afterward.
Rumors have also swirled that Tran might not run either. He hasn't officially declared for the race as the March 12 filing deadline approaches, and some Little Saigon observers believe the assemblyman isn't relishing the idea of possibly losing the primary to Smith or, for that matter, facing the usually formidable Sanchez campaign in a district that includes Santa Ana, Anaheim and Garden Grove. Polling results reviewed by the Weekly show Tran placing third in the primary.
Pham won the praise of numerous political heavy hitters, according to his press announcement. Scott Baugh, chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, said he welcomed Pham's "participation [in GOP politics] with open arms."
Tom McKerman, chairman of the conservative New Majority group, said he is "encouraging [Pham] to stay active with the Republican Party."
Congressman Kevin McCarthy, chief deputy Republican whip and head of candidate recruitment at the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington, D.C., called Pham "the consummate team player" with a "bright future" in politics.
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And Ed Royce, the Fullerton congressman, said that Pham "would have been competitive" in the primary according to polling data and added that a "bitter primary fight would leave the winner with fewer resources to accomplish our mission . . . to defeat Loretta Sanchez."
In an interview this morning, Pham said the last six months of campaigning have been a "huge learning experience." He says he's more committed than ever to espousing fiscal responsibility in federal government spending habits. He also expressed special appreciation to Gen. William Lyons and Congressman Duncan Hunter for believing in his candidacy.
"I'm not ruling out a future campaign," said an upbeat Pham, whom Orange County Register opinion writers recently hailed as the best candidate to topple Sanchez.
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly