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Hispanic, Vietnamese-American Candidates Compete for California Seat

Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez

Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez

One of the most heated Congressional races in the United States pits a Hispanic Democrat, Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, against a Vietnamese-American Republican named Van Tran. Both are working to mobilize supporters in their own ethnic community while reaching out to other voters.

Volunteers in California and other Western states are registering Hispanic voters ahead of the election.

This group, Voto Latino, is a non-partisan organization. But both major parties are working to attract these newly-registered voters.

In Orange County, California, the Democratic incumbent Congressional member, Loretta Sanchez, wants to mobilize Hispanics while also reaching out to other ethnic groups. Most Hispanics in California are registered Democrats, and Sanchez is the daughter of Mexican immigrants. But there's concern that some Hispanics may sit out this election, so Sanchez got help at a recent rally from former President Bill Clinton.

"You come up with the same answer, Loretta Sanchez, every single time," said Bill Clinton. "You go tell people that, then she'll have a great night election night. Thank you, and God bless you all."

The seven-term Congresswoman is locked in a tight race with a Vietnamese immigrant, Republican Van Tran. Tran is getting help from prominent Republicans, including former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

"And we will get on the right track," she said.

Tran was born in Vietnam and has wide support among Vietnamese immigrants, like high school student Vivian Le.

"Because I think he's good," she said. "He's a great guy. And I think Loretta Sanchez, 14 years, she has to go. Step off, and then Van Tran has to come. We need change."

Orange County has large numbers of Latinos and the highest concentration of Vietnamese immigrants in the United States - and Republicans hope to get support from both groups. Tran says he understands the district's Hispanics.

"I have more in common as a first-generation immigrant with the Latino community than my opponent," said Tran. "I understand about the difficulties and the challenges of the assimilation process, the cultural gap and language gap, and all the challenges for families who want, of course, to assimilate and contribute back to their new country."

Democrat Sanchez says she appeals across ethnic lines because of her record.

"The Vietnamese Americans here have the same issues that the rest of the community does," said Sanchez. "They own small businesses, they don't have health care for their people, people aren't spending as much money, many of them have had to close, so I've been talking to them about the 16 bills that we've passed with respect to small business."

Tran has accused Sanchez of using race to boost support among Hispanic voters. Sanchez said last month on Spanish-language television that the Republicans and Vietnamese are trying to take away her seat and she called her opponent anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic. She later apologized for the remark.

Both parties say, at a time of voter frustration, they must mobilize to win, and generate enthusiasm in the remaining days before the November 2 election.