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Loretta Sanchez takes jab at Democratic rival in U.S. Senate race

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Santa Ana) attends the Veterans' Day Parade in Fresno and greets members of the military as she campaigns for U.S. Senate.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Santa Ana) attends the Veterans’ Day Parade in Fresno and greets members of the military as she campaigns for U.S. Senate.

(Tomas Ovalle)

Rep. Loretta Sanchez, during a busy Veterans’ Day campaign swing through Fresno County, accused her top Democratic rival in the U.S. Senate race of ignoring the Central Valley and rarely visiting this heart of California’s agricultural country.

While hobnobbing with campaign supporters and discussing the impact of California’s drought with Latino mayors, Sanchez emphasized that she has come to the Central Valley many times to discuss the region’s most pressing issues, both as a candidate and congresswoman – and said that state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris has not.

“She’s written off the Central Valley. I’m solidifying it,” Sanchez said after appearing at Fresno’s festive Veteran’s Day parade on Wednesday.

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It was a rare political jab in a Senate race that for months has been relatively quiet. And the Santa Ana representative didn’t stop there, also saying that Harris lacks the knowhow to get things done in Washington.

“She has no experience in Washington, making laws, working through them. Understanding, historically, what will fly and what won’t work,’’ Sanchez said. “Let her stay as an attorney general. That’s what she brings to the table. I’m going to bring 19 years of congressional experience.’’

Michael Evans, chairman of the Fresno County Democratic Party, wasn’t any friendlier toward Harris. He said Sanchez has been to Fresno “many times, and we’re very encouraged by this.”

“Her primary opponent is a stranger to the Valley,” Evans said of Harris.

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The Harris campaign said the comments were patently untrue, and accused Sanchez of resorting to negative attacks.

“Atty. Gen. Harris has made visiting and fighting for the Central Valley a priority -- hosting numerous meetings with local law enforcement, holding town halls [with] homeowners facing foreclosure and talking with constituents throughout the Central Valley on many other occasions,’’ said campaign spokesman Nathan Click.

“It’s disappointing to see Congresswoman Sanchez resorting to negative attacks,” Click added. “Californians know we need to send a results-oriented leader to Washington who will put the interests of California families first, and that’s why every indicator shows the AG is in the position of strength in this race.”

Sanchez has lagged behind Harris in the race to succeed retiring Barbara Boxer in the U.S. Senate, according to a Field Poll released in October. Among likely California voters, 30% supported Harris, compared with 17% who supported Sanchez.

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Harris, a former San Francisco district attorney, won statewide races for attorney general in 2010 and 2014. She failed to win in Fresno County in both general elections, however, while Democratic President Obama has carried the county twice.

During one campaign stop Wednesday, Sanchez told stories of traveling to Russia and helping Congress discuss the extension of the U.S. nuclear arms treaty with the former superpower, and she criticized the Obama administration’s strategy in Afghanistan.

Those comments, and the political jabs taken at Harris, provide a good indicator that Sanchez’s campaign strategy will include a heavy dose of her experience on national and world affairs. Sanchez sits on the House Committee on Homeland Security and the House Armed Services Committee.

Political consultant Rose Kapolczynski, who was Boxer’s campaign manager, said spending time in the Central Valley can be beneficial for a candidate, even though it’s home to only a small percentage of California voters, especially Democrats.

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“It’s much easier to get news coverage in the Fresno media market than it is in Los Angeles,” Kapolczynski said. “Even a sitting U.S. senator cannot rely on TV cameras showing up in Los Angeles.”

Kapolczynski added, however, that Harris has been exceptionally effective at using her position as the incumbent attorney general to attract television news coverage in California’s largest media market by holding news conferences in L.A.

“That’s smart politics,” she said.

The top Republicans in the Senate race are Oceanside Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, Contra Costa County attorney Tom Del Beccaro and Silicon Valley attorney George “Duf” Sundheim. Both Del Beccaro and Sundheim are former chairmen of the California Republican Party.

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