Sanchez Jumps Into Race for Boxer’s U.S. Senate Seat

Rep. Loretta Sanchez announces her candidacy at a press conference in front of the Santa Ana train station. Photo by Thy Vo.

Longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez announced Thursday that she’ll be running to replace retiring U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer in the November 2016 election, ending months of speculation about whether the nine-term congresswoman would jump into the highly competitive race.

Speaking to a crowd of supporters and media at Santa Ana’s train station, Sanchez emphasized her background as the child of Mexican immigrants and experience on the House Armed Services and Homeland Security committees.

“I’m running for the Senate because I have national security, military and foreign policy experience, to guide our nation in these perilous times,” said Sanchez. “As the most senior woman in the Congress on national security issues, I know what needs to be done to ensure that our nation is secure and our troops are equipped and ready.”

Her chief competitor will be California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who announced her candidacy soon after Boxer made her retirement plans public in January.

Harris, the daughter of a black father and an Indian mother, has dominated the field of candidates so far, with many state and local party leaders backing her candidacy. Prior to being elected Attorney General, she spent seven years as the San Francisco District Attorney.

But this won’t be the first time Sanchez has faced considerable odds.

She won the 46th District House seat in 1996 by upsetting longtime Republican incumbent Bob Dornan, and she’s managed to hold on to the seat for nearly two decades in one of the nation’s Republican strongholds.

If victorious, Sanchez  would be the first Latina U.S. senator elected to the U.S. Senate and the first Hispanic American from California elected to the Senate.

Media outlets first began reporting that Sanchez would run on Tuesday, after an email was leaked from her office. The office’s initial response was that the congresswoman was still mulling her decision and the “draft announcement” was forwarded by mistake.

Then on Wednesday, her office told reporters that Sanchez would be making a “significant political announcement” at a press conference on Thursday.

At Thursday’s event, asked by a reporter what difference a day had made, Sanchez said the decision was not an “impulsive” one and that she had needed the time to consult with supporters.

She also expressed confidence that she would have plenty of support.

While Harris raised $2.5 million for her campaign in the first four months of the year, Sanchez has just $540,000 in her House campaign account, according to the Federal Election Commission website.

Anaheim attorney Wylie Aitkin, who has chaired Sanchez’s past House campaigns, said running for U.S. Senate is a risk she is prepared to take.

“Probably the greatest risk of her career was beating Bob Dornan when nobody thought she could beat Bob Dornan — Loretta’s a risk-taker,” said Aitkin, who is a member of Voice of OC’s board of directors. “But she believes she can make a difference – it’s not about being comfortable and keeping her seat.”

Two Republicans, Assemblyman Rocky Chavez of San Diego and former California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro, have also announced their candidacy for Boxer’s seat.

By announcing her 2016 bid for the Senate, Sanchez also opens up her House seat in 2016. Already, a number of local politicians are considering running.

First out the gates was former state Sen. Lou Correa, who told reporters after Sanchez’s press conference that he would run for the 46th district seat in 2016. An announcement was posted to his campaign website later that afternoon.

Just months ago, Correa lost a special election bid for Orange County Supervisor to Andrew Do by 43 votes.

Correa has represented the district in different capacities since 1998, when he was elected to the state Assembly. After a two-year stint on the county Board of Supervisors, he was elected to the State Senate for eight years.

Correa, who got his start in politics as a volunteer for Sanchez’s campaign for Anaheim City Council, made a similar pitch for his candidacy as Sanchez, emphasizing his career in the state legislature.

Anaheim Councilman Jordan Brandman, former Rancho Santiago Community College District trustee Claudia Alvarez, and Santa Ana City Councilman Vincent Sarmiento are also rumored to be considering bids.

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.