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Loretta Sanchez's public image a factor in Senate race

Public image of Loretta Sanchez a potential burden in #CASenate race.

One of the first questions facing Rep. Loretta Sanchez in her newly announced U.S. Senate bid is whether the kind of attention she has won while in Congress could weigh down her campaign.

On occasion, the Orange County Democrat has made fellow party members wince.

In 2000, Sanchez embarrassed party leaders and presidential nominee Al Gore by scheduling a fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion during the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.

Joe Andrew, then party chairman, told Sanchez in a public letter that Democrats and women’s groups found the planned gathering at the Holmby Hills estate of Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner to be “neither appropriate nor reflective of our party’s values.”

At Gore’s behest, the party took away Sanchez’s convention speaking slot. Before long, Sanchez backed down and moved her sold-out event to B.B. King's Blues Club at Universal Studios' CityWalk.

Sanchez has also made headlines with cheeky Christmas cards. For years, they featured Gretzky, her white cat. One card showed Sanchez, wearing pink flannel pajamas, snuggling in bed with Gretzky. Another showed the congresswoman in a tank top on a motorcycle, with Gretzky perched on the handlebars.

Sanchez’s public image has left some party strategists skeptical of her prospects in a race against state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, the top Democrat in the contest so far.

“There’s a genuine hunger for a history-making Latino candidate in this race, but Loretta Sanchez is probably not the answer to that hunger,” said Democratic strategist Roy Behr, a former campaign advisor to Sen. Barbara Boxer.

“One could call her actions eccentric, or courageously charting her own path, or bad political judgment. But they’re not actions that enhance someone’s ability to run a credible Senate campaign. They won’t help with donors. They won’t help with other elected leaders,” Behr said.

Fernando Guerra, a political science professor at Loyola Marymount University, differed, suggesting that Sanchez fit California’s tradition of sometimes defying political conventions. He recalled the election of semanticist S.I. Hayakawa to the U.S. Senate in 1976 and of Hollywood dancer and actor George Murphy in 1964.

“You need to capture the public’s imagination, and I think her eccentricities will really help her,” said Guerra, who nonetheless described Harris as the favorite.

Antonio Gonzalez, president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, said Sanchez could inspire a surge in Latino voter turnout.  “She has long prepared for this race in both political and policy terms,” he said.

After announcing her candidacy Thursday in Santa Ana, Sanchez said she did not believe she had any public image problem. "I'm really a policy wonk at heart," said Sanchez, who cited her foreign policy work with Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

At a recent lunch in Irvine, Sanchez said she had long stood up for core principles by, among other things, voting repeatedly against the Patriot Act, which she saw as threatening overly intrusive government surveillance.

She also took credit for securing millions of dollars in federal money for California school, road and water projects.

A Republican until 1992, Sanchez unseated a combative conservative Republican congressman, Robert Dornan of Garden Grove, in 1996 after a career as a financial analyst.

Twitter: @finneganLAT

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