If an enthusiastic Latino voting population was choosing California’s newest U.S. senator today, Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez would be the winner, two polls show.
However, with all voters taken into account, California Attorney General Kamala Harris has a double-digit lead in the historic election for a Senate seat that hasn’t been open in 23 years.
The race to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer also marks the first time Californians will have to pick between two Democrats.
Sanchez, the more moderate of the two, is now in the unusual situation of becoming the conservative option for 54 percent of the state’s Republicans who either don’t know who to vote for or say they won’t choose either candidate, according to a poll released last week by the non-partisan Public Policy Institute.
Currently, Harris – who has much more name recognition – has only 3 percent more than Sanchez among GOP voters, the poll shows.
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Latinos make up 34 percent of the state’s population but only 18 percent of the vote.
“[Attorney General Kamala Harris] has a record of standing up to big powerful special interests for consumers and families,” said her spokesperson Nathan Click. “California wants Washington to stand up to special interests and that is not a partisan issue. That’s exactly what Kamala has done as attorney general.”
But Sanchez disagrees, saying Harris is part of the Democratic Party machine, evidenced by her backers Gov. Jerry Brown, President Obama, Vice President Biden and most of the state’s legislators. The group no doubt played a role in aiding Harris’ $14-million war chest compared to Sanchez’s $4 million.
The 20-year congresswoman had harsh words for Obama, who filmed a TV ad for Harris.
“The establishment has decided that (Obama) is going to select the next senator,” Sanchez told Fox News Latino. “He doesn’t have a right to do that, the people have a right to vote. People are sick and tired of the status quo and the establishment hobnobbing with each other. We are tired of it.”
Sanchez went on to say she was the “people’s choice,” a candidate who can relate to the working class unlike her rival, who was the subject of an exposé in The Hill about lavish campaign spending.
“Kamala has nothing in common with working people. If you look at her campaign funds when she was DA, she spent it all on lavish lifestyle,” said Sanchez, who grew up poor in suburban Los Angeles. “When you look at her AG spending, it’s the same pattern — $800-a-night hotels. In my community, if we go somewhere, we are flopping on someone’s couch. Looking to save money.”
Click was asked about the financial issue.
“It’s a high profile race. Folks know Kamala and her work people across the state,” he said. “These are ridiculous attacks from somebody who is pretty desperate with almost a week out from an election.”
He pointed to one of Harris’ greatest successes: working with 48 other state attorneys general to obtain an historic $25 billion settlement – which includes $18 billion for California -- from five banks accused of causing the housing crisis a decade ago.
Sanchez counts among her Capitol Hill successes a bipartisan effort in fighting terrorism as a senior member of the House’s Homeland Security Committee. She voted against the Iraq War, took a stance that up to 20 percent of Muslims want an international Islamic State and seeks to strengthen immigrant vetting and toughen laws surrounding overstayed visas. Twenty House colleagues from both parties have endorsed her.
The Public Policy Institute poll had Sanchez with 41 percent of the Latino vote, compared to Harris’ 33 percent. Only 6 percent said they would not vote and 19 percent were undecided.
Counting all voters, Harris has a lead with 42 percent to Sanchez’s 20 percent.
Another poll targeting only Latinos released on Oct. 21 by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) showed a larger Latino margin: Sanchez 47 percent to Harris’ 30.
“They know me, they don’t know her,” Sanchez said of the Latino voters.
But Harris does have some Latino support of her own. La Opinion, the nation’s largest Spanish newspaper, endorsed her. As did Dolores Huerta, who lobbied 60 years ago on behalf of farm workers and co-founded the National Farmworkers Association.
“I’m a Democrat, but you will hear that I work with Republicans and listen to their concerns and try to find solutions on things like national security,” Sanchez said. “These are not partisan issues, these are issues of protecting America and Americans. I take it very seriously and work with everybody to make sure Americans are protected.”
Tori Richards is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.