Monday, Oct. 11, 2010 | As so often happens in politics, Assemblyman Van Tran and Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen once had a mentor/protégé relationship that gradually became adversarial.
The beginnings of Nguyen’s political career can be traced back to Tran appointing her to the Garden Grove Planning Commission. But over the past four years, the two have consistently crossed swords — battering each other on Vietnamese language radio and in print news outlets and supporting competing candidates in local council races.
When Nguyen vied for county supervisor in 2006, she directly challenged Tran — her elder by 12 years — who supported a different candidate and waged an all-out campaign against her. She eventually won a tight recount.
As recently as the spring, during a tense encounter over a memorial to the fall of Saigon, Tran supporters stood outside a Westminster City Council meeting holding a picture of Nguyen with an “X” through her face.
Now, however, Tran finds himself in a tough — and potentially close — battle with incumbent Democrat Loretta Sanchez for the 47th District seat in the U.S. Congress.
And senior Orange County Republican leaders want everybody on the team pushing in the same direction. This week, Nguyen came under intense pressure from party Chairman Scott Baugh and the donor community to put aside her differences with Tran and get behind him.
Chip Hanlon, over at RedCounty.com, wrote on Friday urging Nguyen to support Tran arguing that if the election came down to just a few votes, she would regret it.
So Nguyen on Saturday trekked to Tran’s Garden Grove headquarters for an official show of support. The scene before the photo-op was the political-endorsement equivalent of a glimpse into the back shop of a sausage factory.
Sitting around a table in the corner of the room — which was teeming with Tran supporters working phone banks — were Tran, Nguyen and a high-level delegation from the Republican Party.
The group included Fullerton Republican Congressman Ed Royce, Garden Grove Mayor Bill Dalton and Lincoln Club icons Dale Dykema and Mike Capaldi. Baugh’s close friend and Costa Mesa City Council candidate Jim Righeimer sat next to Tran. County Supervisor Pat Bates sat between Tran and Nguyen.
Then the team broke and scrambled for the microphones and flags as they gathered together to announce the endorsement to a phalanx of Vietnamese media.
Nguyen and Tran stood awkwardly in the middle of the lineup with a noticeable gap between them — it was like all the party heavyweights were trying force two magnets together.
Baugh took the microphone and thanked both Nguyen and Tran for “putting differences aside.” He called it a “happy day for all of us.”
Tran took the microphone and talked about how taking back Congress was more important than the past political differences of two people. He stressed that the Vietnamese community should fully get behind his candidacy to ensure a Republican win.
“This is a lot bigger than myself and Janet,” he said.
When she was asked to speak, Nguyen thanked Baugh for his “patience” and offered an endorsement of the party’s endorsement of Tran.
After the photo-op, Tran acknowledged the tense and ironic nature of the event as well as past slights: “In the heart of every campaign or political dialogue, people get passionate.”
Today, he said, “let bygones be bygones.”
The reaction from Nguyen was icier.
When asked about endorsing Tran, Nguyen stayed on message, stressing that she was endorsing the party’s endorsement. Then she stood and smiled.
Regarding past attacks between her and Tran, Nguyen remained on point as well: “I had to defend myself and my family.”
Finally, she said: “I’m here with the party to join them today to make sure we bring down the deficit and cut the budget.”