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Clinton stumps for Sanchez in tight congressional race

October 15, 2010 |  6:49 pm

Underscoring the importance of an Orange County congressional seat in the battle for control of the House of Representatives, former President Clinton urged Democrats at a Santa Ana rally Friday afternoon to get out the vote for Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove).

Sanchez, the only Democratic member of Congress from Orange County, made national headlines 14 years ago when she defeated conservative icon Rep. Robert K. Dornan.  Now she faces a strong challenge from Republican Assemblyman Van Tran, also of Garden Grove, in a race that both major national parties are trying hard to win.

"I think you have two American success stories ... with radically different ideas," Clinton said, referring to Sanchez's humble beginnings as the daughter of immigrants who worked hard to see their seven children received good educations and to Tran's experience as a 10-year-old who fled South Vietnam with his family and built a new life in the United States. 

 "This is competing ideas, that's what that is," Clinton told an enthusiastic crowd from the steps of Santa Ana's historic Old Courthouse.

Sanchez stood beaming at Clinton's side as he ticked off the different approaches to government of Republicans and Democrats, laid the sour economy at the feet of the Bush administration and declared that having the GOP in charge of the House would hurt efforts to ease unemployment, undermine Social Security by "turning it over to Wall Street," and would extend tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans  while cutting such programs as student loans for others.

Noting that he had come to Orange County to campaign for Sanchez when she wrested the congressional seat from Dornan in 1996, Clinton said she "has been a great member of Congress," bringing federal funds to the district for jobs, freeway improvements, college programs and the like.

Clinton spoke for about 40 minutes to members of a  crowd that couldn't seem to get enough of him, cheering excitedly when he appeared -- almost an hour late -- and snapping photos with their cellphones and hoisting children onto their shoulders to get a better look.

At the end of his talk, he removed his suit jacket, walked down the steps into the crowd  and spent about 10 minutes greeting people.

A small group of Tran supporters hoisted signs and handed out copies of a written statement to reporters saying Clinton showed "poor judgment"  in campaigning for Sanchez "when she is trying to divide communities by race." 

That was a reference to a remark Sanchez made on Spanish-language television recently when she said Tran and "the Vietnamese" were trying to take "this seat from us." She later said she was responding to a question from the moderator that was taken out of context, but the Tran campaign has tried to keep the issue alive.

Many in the crowd said they had come specifically to hear Clinton.

"He's a great historic figure," said Sarah Baylus, 22, of Riverside. Seeing him is "something I'll tell my kids and grandkids about some day."

-- Jean Merl