The New Bob Dornan

Chaotic press conferences. Latino bashing. Loretta Sanchez trashing. Republican gnashings. Outrageous mailers. Conspiracies. Thugs. Delusional claims. Orange County welcomed back Bob Dornan last Sunday in the form of 47th Congressional District Republican candidate Tan Nguyen.

Nguyen is the candidate behind an already infamous Spanish language letter sent to about 14,000 Latino voters in the 47th warning them that illegal immigrants aren't eligible to vote, and that anti-immigrant groups would have access to information about recently registered voters. Two problems: the letter claimed it came from the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, the xenophobic Huntington Beach organization. CCIR chair Barbara Coe told reporters her group had nothing to do with it. And it also ran afoul of federal election law prohibiting voter intimidation and requiring proper identification of any campaign literature.

The letter sparked a national uproar. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called it “a despicable act of political intimidation and a hate crime.” County GOP head Scott Baugh told the Los Angeles Times, “The letter was grotesque and obnoxious, and if it's a crime the offender should be prosecuted.” He demanded Nguyen drop out of the race. In an earlier press release, Baugh wrote, “The Republican Party of Orange County will not tolerate any voter intimidation”—this from the party that, 18 years ago, approved the use of guards outside polling stations in Santa Ana to harass voters, the party whose congressional delegation takes the rostrum in the House to pronounce the very sentiments addressed in the letter addressed.

Nguyen scheduled an Oct. 20 press conference outside his Garden Grove campaign headquarters to explain his role but canceled it after state Department of Justice officials raided the place, wearing white latex gloves and loaded holsters while searching through files and desks. Two days later, Nguyen finally appeared, and he was angry—though no angrier than the 50 or so reporters who had waited more than half an hour outside.

Before emerging, Nguyen talked with volunteers, slapping some on the shoulder, shaking the hands of others. Nguyen then walked toward a raided office desk and shook his head. He finally stood before the mike stand, his wife standing next to him.

“Let me begin,” he said in slightly accented English, “by answering all the political figures, including the Chairman of the Republican Party of Orange County, Scott Baugh, and their ridiculous call for my withdrawal: I am innocent, and there is no way in hell I am gonna withdraw. I'm not gonna quit this race, and I'm gonna win this race.”

An audible laugh rose from the press corps. Nguyen was maybe the worst candidate yet in a long line of sacrificial lambs (Dornan, Gloria Matta Tuchman, Jeff Chavez, Alexandria Coronado) the Republican Party has lined up to face Sanchez in the past decade. Nguyen moved into the district two years ago, shortly after failing to earn the Democratic Party's nomination to face incumbent Dana Rohrabacher. He earned the ire of Latino voters during the spring by placing campaign signs stating, “Stop Illegal Immigration.” In recent weeks, Nguyen also sent out fliers trying to paint Sanchez as terrorist-friendly, for her close relationship with the 47th's many Muslim voters. And his abrasive personality turned off Democrats and Republicans alike (see “Xenophobic From the Start“).

Nguyen told reporters it would be a “disservice to myself and the people of this community if I were to quit,” and claimed he and Sanchez were “neck and neck.” The idea that the letter was illegal, Nguyen claimed, was a “big fat lie.”

The crux of his argument rested on one word: emigrado. “I took a long walk last night along the beach, and I asked many Hispanics about the word,” Nguyen shared. The word according to these Hispanics meant “resident alien,” and not “immigrant,” as the English language press had reported. Therefore, according to Nguyen, his letter told the truth.

But Nguyen wouldn't answer any other questions—not about the fake letterhead, not about his firing and rehiring of a campaign staffer he blamed for sending out the letter, nothing. Instead, he launched broadsides against Sanchez, claiming she refuses to condemn Hezbollah, didn't commend American troops and supported illegal immigrants.

“Who's fueling this hysteria? I don't speak Spanish but you know what? My opponent, Ms. Sanchez—she speaks Spanish. Why is she fueling the hysteria? Why is she holding protests to try and lynch me?”

“These past few days have been hell for myself,” Nguyen added. He thanked nameless supporters who “left flowers at our doors,” and invited them to an open house at his campaign headquarters this coming Saturday at noon. Nguyen ended the conference, at which point reporters started yelling questions.

“Let me say this,” Nguyen concluded. “I put a lot on the plate today. I have gone far and beyond what my attorneys have recommended. However, I feel that I have been campaigning on the fact that I would tell it like it is. But today, I cannot answer those questions.”

Nguyen's attorney took questions from reporters but refused to answer any of them. Nguyen retired to his supporters, who cheered him. Then, they blocked the entrance to Nguyen's campaign headquarters and glowered at the press corps.


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