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The Vietnamese are coming! Democrat Rep. Loretta Sanchez ignites an immigrant controversy

September 24, 2010 |  6:12 am

California Republican Assemblyman Van Tran running against Rep. Loretta Sanchez for the Orange County US House seat

Seven-term Rep. Loretta Sanchez is another of those Democrat incumbents across the country who've run into some stiff opposition from Republican challengers this presidential midterm election year.

One by one, if 39 House officeholders like Sanchez lose their seats, then Nancy Pelosi, another Californian, would become a former House speaker and ex-head of the congressional chamber where all financial legislation originates.Democrat House member Loretta Sanchez

In California's 47th Congressional District, the heart of Orange County that includes Disneyland and Angels Stadium, Republican state Assemblyman Van Tran, the first Vietnamese elected to the California Assembly, is trying to take advantage of GOP tailwinds this year caused by the stubbornly sluggish economy and growing fears over federal spending and record deficits.

Despite last year's disappointing multibillion-dollar economic stimulus package and the Obama administration's June promise of a recovery summer, California's unemployment rate rose to 12.4% last month, third highest in the nation after Nevada's 14.4% and Michigan's 13.1%.

The assemblyman hopes to become only the second Vietnamese elected to the....

...U.S. House after Louisiana's Joseph Cao and to reclaim GOP control of the district formerly held by outspoken conservative veteran Robert Dornan.

And now the 50-year-old Sanchez has helped her Republican challenger out a bit. In a Spanish-language interview last week Sanchez made reference to "the Vietnamese" coming to her heavily-Hispanic district to wrest away control that she's exercised since her initial win in 1996.

"The Vietnamese and the Republicans are intensely (trying) to take this seat," Sanchez said, "this seat (from which) we have done so much for our community, to take this seat and give it to this Van Tran, who is very anti-immigrant and very anti-Hispanic."

Tran, however, is an immigrant himself and part of the district's growing Asian population. He immediately demanded an apology. His spokesman, George Andrews, professed shock at such a statement on national TV and added, "The 47th congressional district belongs to the people and not an individual ethnicity."

Sanchez tried to explain later that she was referring not to some entire ethnic group invading Hispanic turf but just to those Vietnamese who are supporting Van Tran. But the impression was launched. The race was already considered close and her gaffe is likely to tighten it even further. Here, Chip Hanlon of RedCounty.com notes the congresswoman is saying one thing to one constituent community and another to another.

Sanchez has easily won previous reelections, collecting 69% of the 47th's vote in 2008, when President Obama received only 60%.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photos: Robert Durell / Los Angeles Times (Van Tran); Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times (Sanchez).

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