Rep. Sanchez Says She’ll Run in Recall, If ...

Times Staff Writer

Saying Democrats must offer voters an alternative in case Gov. Gray Davis is recalled, Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) said Tuesday she is considering running in the Oct. 7 election.

Sanchez, who has urged Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein to run as a replacement candidate if Davis is recalled, said she would consider launching a campaign only if no other prominent Democrats jump in before Saturday’s 5 p.m. filing deadline.

“Running myself wouldn’t be my preference,” she said after testifying before Orange County supervisors in support of a light-rail project. “My hope has always been to have Dianne Feinstein run. We have to honor the voters’ desire to have a [replacement] candidate. I’m hoping she’ll understand we’re struggling to get a consensus.”


But in light of Feinstein’s continued reluctance, Sanchez said, “I’m becoming the draft candidate.”

Running would mean bucking Democratic leaders who have called for a united front behind Davis. It would also create more immediate concerns, such as whether to refinance her house to raise quick cash for a campaign.

Under normal circumstances, Sanchez wouldn’t top the list of sure-fire Democratic candidates for statewide office. But given the topsy-turvy recall climate, a Sanchez candidacy is not farfetched, said Jack Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.

“We know she seizes opportunities and she doesn’t follow the traditional conventions,” Pitney said. “She’d certainly get an enormous amount of attention.”

Attention is a frequent companion for the four-term congresswoman. She was hailed as a giant killer in 1996 when she pulled off an upset victory over entrenched Republican Rep. Robert K. Dornan, becoming the first Democratic congressional representative from Orange County in a dozen years. This year, she and sibling Linda Sanchez, newly elected to a Los Angeles-area district, became the first sisters to serve at the same time in the House.

Conservative activist Art Pedroza Jr. of Orange said Sanchez has a high profile, the ability to raise money and support from labor unions. But many Democrats and others “have privately agonized over the often-embarrassing antics of Sanchez,” he wrote in his weekly Web-based political column, including her aborted plans in 2000 to feature then-Vice President Al Gore at a fund-raiser at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion.

Another Republican scoffed that the most attention Sanchez has drawn in recent months, despite being a member of the Homeland Security Committee, was from a photo of her that appeared in the June issue of Muscle & Fitness Hers magazine.

Sanchez said she’s known to voters statewide, thanks to two years spent building support for a future U.S. Senate run.

“I’ve been up and down the state in anticipation of running for the Senate and I haven’t hidden that from anybody,” she said.

Last week, Sanchez broke ranks by joining Rep. Calvin M. Dooley (D-Hanford) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) in urging Feinstein to run as an “insurance” candidate on the recall ballot, since all candidates would appear on a winner-take-all list. She argued in editorial and television appearances that Democratic voters need an option should Davis be ousted. A strong Democrat such as Feinstein, she said, could encourage Democrats to show up on election day to turn back the recall.

Sanchez turned up the heat Saturday, hinting broadly that she might run to give voters a choice. On Monday, she told former California Democratic Party Chairman Bill Press that she’d defer to other Democratic federal and state officeholders to “put on the best person that we can” -- and if she fit the bill, “then I will put my name on there.”

The real danger for Democrats is that a Sanchez candidacy could spark an avalanche of Democrats joining the race, Pitney said.

“If she does go for it, it’s a high-gain, high-risk proposition,” he said. “She could end up being governor or she could end up being a party pariah.”