Tan Nguyen Tripped Up In Run Against Loretta Sanchez
By Quang X. Pham
The Orange County Register
Friday, October 27, 2006
The former Marine Corps pilot, business consultant and author earlier this year explored running as an Independent against Rep. Loretta Sanchez. His campaign slogan states he's "not afraid to tell it like it is." But Tan Nguyen, the ex-Democrat-turned-Republican congressional candidate, might want to ditch the phrase. According to polls commissioned by Nguyen, he was actually leading by double digits and well on his way to Washington, D.C.
Such a claim was absurd even before the ruckus over a scare letter sent by Nguyen's campaign to thousands of Hispanic homes in central Orange County sullied his name, the most common surname for Vietnamese. State agents this week raided Nguyen's campaign office and home shortly before his scheduled news conference. Computers and files were seized, but no charges had been filed with less than two weeks to go before the election in the 47th Congressional District.
Nguyen says he had no advance knowledge of the mailer, which warned immigrants that they could be jailed if they attempted to vote. He defiantly proclaimed, "I am not going to quit this race, and I am going to win this race."
It reminds me of the catchphrase, "Just win, baby," coined by Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis.
These days, the Raiders, currently 1-5, have about as much chance of winning the Super Bowl as Nguyen has of becoming a congressman.
Still, to defeat five-term incumbent Rep. Loretta Sanchez, Republicans need a leader like Al Davis: someone rich, tough, with credibility among ethnic communities and committed to winning at any (legal) cost.
Of course, like her opponent Nguyen, Sanchez also switched parties after losing an election, for Anaheim City Council in 1994. Since upsetting "B-1 Bob" Dornan in 1996 and then beating him again two years later, no challenger has come within 20 percentage points of her, even though she hasn't authored a single piece of significant legislation during a decade in office. "Loretta Sanchez is a disaster, as was Bob Dornan," wrote Steven Greenhut, senior editorial writer of The Orange County Register. "There is no realistic chance that anyone normal will represent that congressional district anytime soon."
No one really asked Nguyen why he decided to challenge Sanchez. Where does he stand on the hot-button issues? According to his voter-guide statement, Nguyen wants to split Iraq into three countries. "It'll be their problem from thereon. They can behead each other and not Americans," Nguyen stated. He blames Ronald Reagan's 1986 amnesty program for today's immigration problems and opposes any guest-worker programs.
Political observers watched with surprise as Nguyen spent nearly a half-million dollars of his own money on the primary race and handily thumped his opponent, Rosie Avila, by more than 3,000 votes. Avila, a longtime Santa Ana school board member endorsed by several county supervisors, didn't bother to do a single mailing. Nguyen has campaigned mostly on his own, without support of the county Republican Party. According to one of his Federal Election Commission filings, he has raised just over $60,000 from individuals. Nearly all of his spending targeted Vietnamese-American voters via direct mail, lawn signs and ethnic media ads.
Christian Collet, an expert on Vietnamese-American politics and currently associate professor of American Politics at Doshisha University in Japan, foresees one outcome. "What we see here is an overzealous, amateur candidate (Tan Nguyen) claiming to represent the community and promising to deliver a bloc of votes. What politicians need to realize is that Vietnamese-American voters are relentlessly independent, [they]only vote as a bloc for candidates whom they know and trust to represent the community and that the process of developing that trust takes a considerable amount of time."
It's unclear how many who voted for Nguyen in the GOP primary were Vietnamese-Americans.
Despite the denunciations from county, party and state officials from both parties, Nguyen will not quit. His name will remain on the ballot, including absentee ballots that are beginning to arrive at the registrar's office.
In the end, it's likely that Nguyen will come closer than anyone else has to beating Sanchez. But there's no consolation prize in politics – especially when you've already switched parties once, lost twice and are being scrutinized by prosecutors.