Sister Act Two

Sanchez drafts sis for Assembly run? It's not enough that she will go down in California history as the underdog who knocked off the Darth Vader of American politics. Loretta Sanchez now wants her family to become Orange County's next political dynasty. In recent weeks, multiple sources say, the first-term congresswoman has intensified her behind-the-scenes effort to drum up support for her younger sister Linda's still-unofficial campaign to replace Lou Correa as the Democrats' challenger to 69th District Assemblyman Jim Morrissey. At a Newport Beach fund-raiser last month, Sanchez bragged that if she survives the anticipated 1998 Republican onslaught and Linda topples Morrissey, the two of them will "make the cover of Newsweek." More recently, the congresswoman has reportedly picked up the pace, calling several prominent local Democrats to test the political waters for her sister.

Linda Sanchez, an amiable 28-year-old Newport Beach attorney, told the Weekly that she is "considering running, but I haven't made a final determination. I'm doing my homework now and studying all the variables. The filing deadline is not until December." Linda said she was "surprised" to hear that her older sister may have been pushing her candidacy. "From what I know from my sister, she wants me to do what my heart tells me to do," Linda said. "She has not been a vocal advocate one way or the other." Jean Costales, chairwoman of the Orange County Democratic Party, concurs: "I met with Linda and discussed her options. It is fair to say that she is interested in a career in politics, but nothing is final as far as I know." Others, however, say Linda--who lives with her mother in Orange but is searching for an in-district Santa Ana apartment--has been "making the rounds" among traditional Democratic groups such as labor. Their impression is that she has "unequivocally decided to run."

Such maneuverings have political circles buzzing, not just because of the novelty of a Sanchez-Sanchez team but also because Linda's candidacy would be a slap at Correa, who lost to Morrissey by just .002 percent of the 53,000 votes cast in a heavily Democratic district composed of Santa Ana and mostly Latino neighborhoods in Garden Grove and central Anaheim. There is concern that a Sanchez-vs.-Correa primary matchup could splinter the Democratic party and threaten hopes of building on their fragile two-seat Assembly majority in 1998.

After learning of the potential challenge, Correa told his supporters that while he likes Linda, he has no plans to drop out of the race. One source close to Correa said that he "did a lot of soul searching after losing by 94 votes and truly believes he is the best chance for a Democratic win."Unlike the last election, Correa has the early backing of powerful Democrats in Sacramento--including Assembly Speaker Cruz M. Bustamante. Just this month, Bustamante said publicly that Correa can beat Morrissey. On the other hand, it is safe to conclude that Linda would garner the support of the well-to-do local Democratic Foundation, which is headed by Wylie Aitken, Sanchez's campaign chairman. "If Lou runs and Linda runs, the whole equation is going to get real messy," said one local Democratic activist. "You would have two Latinos battling it out for the money and for the votes. It's going to be ugly. The party would be at war with itself."

Some observers see Sanchez's push for her sister as a power grab designed to ensure her control over what happens in the 69th District, an area encompassed by her 46th Congressional District and critical to her re-election chances. They worry that Linda--who has never run for public office and who doesn't yet live in the district--may inadvertently be a liability for Sanchez. Still others, particularly those in Sanchez's camp, say they don't have confidence in Correa's ability to run a successful campaign. "Let's face it," said one high-ranking Democrat. "The No. 1 goal of all Democrats is to see Loretta win re-election, and if she thinks her best chance is with her sister running in the 69th, then she will probably get her way. If there is any hesitancy, it is that people are wondering how voters will react to seeing two Sanchezes on the same ballot. The whole strategy could backfire." "Whether I would help or hurt my sister is one of a whole list of complex variables that I'm still thinking about," said Linda. "I don't know the answer yet."


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