It's no surprise to me that the Attorney General's office has identified Tan Nguyen as suspect No. 1 in the mailing of 14,000 threatening letters to Latino voters in Central Orange County. Nguyen's campaign was xenophobic from the start.
Nguyen called me months ago, but I didn't believe it was him. Not at first. Then, as the evidence mounted—the irrationality, the veiled threats—I soon realized this was no fake. This really was the Republican candidate for Loretta Sanchez's 47th Congressional District seat.
The clincher came when he said he'd read my political blog, TheLiberalOC.com, and he wanted me to stop writing about him.
The Tan Nguyen for Congress campaign has had its ups and downs—or at least its downs. At the core of his campaign problem was his focus on the issue of illegal immigration and his use of racist signifiers to acquire support from Minuteman-types and Anaheim Anglos. It was an odd choice for a guy who is himself an immigrant and who was hoping to win in a district where 65 percent of the registered voters are Latino.
But Nguyen's race-baiting didn't end with Mexicans. Earlier this month, he mailed voters a picture of Middle Eastern terrorists and tried to link them to Loretta Sanchez's oft-stated support of the local Muslim-American community.
Nguyen launched his campaign by covering almost every major intersection in Santa Ana, Garden Grove and Anaheim with his neon-green campaign posters. Vandals soon edited the posters to include the word "racist" or drew Hitler-like mustaches on Nguyen's face. I took photographs of the vandalized signs and posted them to my blog.
Nguyen said he was certain I was the one tagging his signs and he demanded that I stop. "I've put a lot of my own money into this race," he said. "I don't want to lose because of some kid with markers."
I told Nguyen that I could think of many reasons he would lose, and none of them involved kids or markers.
Nguyen is a stubborn guy, and I guess I'm not much better because our phone call went nowhere. It was impossible to convince him that I wasn't responsible for vandalizing his signs. In the middle of our conversation, Nguyen even dropped a threat worthy of a John Grisham novel.
"I have a lot of passionate people supporting me," he said. "I would hate to see anyone get hurt."
Most politicians have handlers, but I had to wonder who—if anyone—was consulting this guy. It turns out that Nguyen had hired Tom Fuentes to do the job. You might remember Fuentes as the chairman of the Orange County Republican Party back in 1988 when the OC GOP stationed uniformed guards at polling places in heavily Latino districts in an attempt to intimidate voters.
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Just as we were about to conclude our conversation, Nguyen asked, "So we're clear? You're going to stop vandalizing my signs?"
"Mr. Nguyen," I said, "I've never touched one of your signs."
"Well, people have told me that you're responsible," he said.
"And people are calling you a racist," I said, and then I hung up.