Sanchez Makes a Sudden Move From Nowhere to Everywhere


Loretta Sanchez, who was running on less than three hours of sleep Thursday, could not figure out what the fuss was all about. Robert K. Dornan was history. She had work to do.

Sanchez, the Democratic newcomer who has dazzled the nation with her apparent victory over the outspoken conservative incumbent in the 46th Congressional District, was repeatedly pulled away from the paperback she toted, along with her cell phone and beeper.

In between calls, she tried to flip through the book, "Who's Who in Congress," and a packet of orientation material for new members of Congress. She had staff to hire, office space to worry about and committee assignments to seek. (Her preference: Appropriations or Commerce).

She had to decide, with her husband, Stephen Brixey III, whether he would move with her to Washington. And she needed to figure out whether to sell her financial consulting business.

"The campaign is over," said Sanchez, who has stopped asking for the latest results from the registrar of voters. "Now I've got to work. That's a big responsibility. . . . I need to get as informed about Congress as I possibly can in a small amount of time so I can really be effective."

Thursday, the distractions were endless. President Clinton was supposed to call, but she worried that he wouldn't be able to find her as she rushed here and there.

She tried to handle hundreds of media calls. "It's overwhelming," said Tricia Primrose, a press assistant with the Democratic National Committee, who was flown in to help handle the deluge. "I've never seen anything like it."

In contrast, Dornan spent the day largely out of the public eye at his home in Garden Grove, talking to congressional colleagues and fielding his own flood of media calls. He said he had more than three dozen requests to appear on local radio shows, and was going through network television telephone calls.

"My defeat is the biggest story of my career to the liberal media," said the nine-term congressman. "It is getting way more attention than my effort to help 900 brothers, soldiers left behind in Korea [at the end of the Korean War]."

He added: "I agreed to do 'Crossfire' [on CNN] tomorrow and they are trying to get Sanchez to go on, as well." He also had a call from the Rush Limbaugh show and "Nightline" on ABC, he said.

Near the end of the day he drove to the registrar of voters office in Santa Ana with a small entourage of family members, much the same group that helped him run his campaign and stood with him as his chances of winning reelection dwindled.

Dornan has insisted there is potential for abuse of the voter registration system by noncitizens because it is based on an honor system.

"What bothers me," he told Registrar Rosalyn Lever and Deputy Registrar Don Taylor, "is my leaving office on the votes of people who would never be drafted or called to serve on a jury, who are voting to defend their right to a welfare check."

Dornan said that if he loses, he would "become part of a national crusade to clean up the voting registration system."

Both Lever and Taylor said they had no evidence of widespread fraud or abuse of any kind in the recent election, though Taylor admitted "there is probably no doubt" there are noncitizens on the voter rolls.

Indeed, the race is not over, although Sanchez clearly felt comfortable with her 765-vote lead over Dornan. There are still several thousand votes to be counted, including 1,200 mail-in votes from tiny precincts that were not served by polling places, and perhaps 2,000 provisional ballots, which were filled out primarily by voters who did not appear on registration lists at their polling places.

Sanchez said confidently: "They should go our way."

Apparently, some in Washington shared her outlook. Newspaper headlines across the nation announced Dornan's defeat Thursday morning. One particularly vicious one, in the New York Post, announced: "Liberals & gays dancing on Dornan's grave."

And the Washington Times reported at least one veteran member of Congress was already eyeing Dornan's coveted office, with its view of the Capitol. Not so fast, said a staffer for the House superintendent's office, who explained, "Until that election settles who's the winner, it's up in the air."

Largely because of her opponent, Sanchez was the center of a one-day media blitz that began with an appearance on NBC's "Today Show" with Katie Couric.

Sanchez got up for the interview at 2:45 in the morning, after having stayed up until midnight the night before, talking with her parents, husband, brothers and sisters at a Mexican restaurant near her Garden Grove campaign headquarters. At home, she unplugged the phone to get some sleep.

Later in the morning, she took a congratulatory call from Henry Cisneros, secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who campaigned for Sanchez in Santa Ana the day before the Nov. 5 election.

Then she headed to CNN's bureau in Los Angeles for an appearance on "Inside Politics." Sanchez breezed in with only Primrose at her side, taking just a moment to touch up her lipstick. She smiled through it all, calm, cool and focused.

Chatting in the hall afterward, she turned toward a monitor when she heard someone mention Dornan's name. It was CNN anchor Bernard Shaw talking to House Speaker Newt Gingrich's press secretary about the possible end of Dornan's reign.

She laughed and called her husband on his cell phone. "Was it OK?" she teased, wondering about her performance. "Are you getting enough of me?" She would not see him until later that night, when the two were to fly to Washington.

"Love you," she told him, on the way to the Los Angeles law office of her campaign manager, Dan Shallman. "See you at the airport."

She wasn't tired. "Not yet," she said.

'Luckily," she said, looking at her staff, "there are people handling the overwhelming part. I just have to talk."

Growing up with seven chatty brothers and sisters, said the daughter of poor immigrants from northern Mexico, she has no problem with that.

At Shallman's office, she returned dozens of media calls, without a trace of fatigue or irritation. NBC wants shots of her packing, a staffer announced, for a "Loretta Sanchez goes to Washington" kind of thing. "It's amazing," she said, shaking her head in disbelief, "what people care about."

"It's just me," she said. "Just me."

Also contributing to this report was Times staff writer Gebe Martinez.

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