Loretta Sanchez

I’m the most qualified for the U.S. Senate, says Rep. Loretta Sanchez. The 20-year veteran of Congress is running against California Attorney General Kamala Harris in the June 7 primary.

By Sean Cockerham
March 22, 2016 – 10:50 AM

  • Sanchez is running in the June primary to replace Barbara Boxer, who’s retiring
  • A rare elected Democrat from Orange County, she’s served in Congress for two decades
  • Statements have stirred controversy, but she’s gained respect on military issues


Whether she’s sending out cat Christmas cards, mimicking a Native American war whoop, or suggesting that up to 20 percent of Muslims might resort to violence to overthrow the Western way of life, U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez of California is known as much for her personality as her policy.

But as the Orange County Democrat runs to take the place of the retiring Barbara Boxer in the U.S. Senate, she’s betting Californians will look at her record in the House and find her more capable of representing the state than Attorney General Kamala Harris, whom she faces in the June 7 primary election.

“Loretta Sanchez tends to say what’s on her mind – sometimes that’s helpful to her, sometimes not,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. “That penchant tends to obscure her more substantive work in Congress.”

Under California election rules, Sanchez and Harris, both Democrats, could end up as the contenders in the November general election, too.

Sanchez, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, is a national leader on issues of military sexual assault and expanding women’s combat roles. She’s a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee and the Homeland Security Committee.

Sanchez also is well regarded in Orange County for steering federal dollars back to her district. She’s considered a friend to business.

“She’s served as the only Democrat from Orange County in Congress for a long time and she’s done well in that role,” said Curt Pringle, former Republican speaker of the state Assembly who was mayor of Anaheim for eight years.

“She does sometimes step in it,” said Pringle, who now owns a lobbying and public relations firm in Anaheim. “But those of us who have watched her – she has been in Congress since 1996 – understand that while once in a while she trips over something, it doesn’t necessarily diminish her broader value.”

Sanchez is in a tough position against Harris, who is leading in the polls and who won the California Democratic Party’s endorsement at last month’s state party convention with nearly 80 percent of the votes. Ted Vaill, a delegate from Malibu, recalled Sanchez mimicking a stereotypical American Indian war whoop at the Democratic convention last year (she later apologized). “Loretta Sanchez is a dingbat,” he said.

Sanchez, though, has been underestimated in the past, and she stands to benefit from how California’s election system works. The two candidates who get the most votes in the June primary – regardless of their party – advance to face one another in the November general election.

With the Republicans in the race trailing in polls and fundraising, Sanchez is in a strong position to make the November runoff election against Harris.

“We will be either number one or number two in the June primary,” Sanchez said in an interview. “And by November, when people understand I’m one of them, that I’m not the establishment, that I have the experience, that I know how to work with everybody, that I am an independent thinker – I believe when they know that, the majority of Californians will vote Loretta Sanchez.”

Sanchez is the second of seven children born to Mexican immigrants. Her sister, Linda Sanchez of Whittier, is also in the House. They are the only sisters ever to both serve in Congress.

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