Trailing by double digits in the polls, U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez hoped that a strong debate performance on Wednesday would help her gain some ground against rival Kamala Harris as the two vie to replace longtime California Sen. Barbara Boxer.
In their only scheduled debate before Election Day, Sanchez appeared exasperated at times with the national attention that Harris – California’s attorney general – has received and the high profile endorsements from the likes of President Barack Obama, Vice President Biden, Gov. Jerry Brown and Boxer herself.
The Orange County Democrat tried to paint her fellow party member as a member of the so-called “establishment” and said that Harris is a candidate that only “talks a good story.”
For her part, Harris tried to flip her opponent’s selling points and hit Sanchez – a longtime congresswoman – on her numerous overseas trips and her mixed attendance in Congress.
"You can have a lot of stamps in your passport, but you’ve got to show up,” Harris said, according to the Los Angeles Times. She later added that the Golden State deserves a senator who “shows up and who gets things done.”
Harris added another dig: “My opponent has passed one bill in her 20 years in office, and that was to rename a post office.”
For much of the debate, however, the two Democrats attempted to sidestep the fact that Sanchez and Harris share very similar opinions on numerous issues and instead focused on each other’s personal style and record in a debate that veered toward a much more caustic tone than the so-far quiet campaign.
Sanchez attempted to frame Harris, a lifetime prosecutor, as ill-equipped for Washington at a time of global dangers. Sanchez said she had more experience dealing with terrorism because of her time in office and her own service on the Armed Services and Homeland Security committees in the House. She also depicted Harris as untrustworthy, a politician who "says one thing and does another."
Sanchez also sought to connect Harris to California’s rising homicide rates and said she has failed in an area where the attorney general professes expertise.
For her part, Harris recounted that Sanchez was sharply criticized last December after suggesting that as many as two of 10 Muslims would engage in terrorism to establish a strict Islamic state.
Sanchez later issued a statement saying the estimate did not reflect her views on the Muslim community in America, and most Muslims around the world are committed to peace.
The Mexican-American congresswoman needed a strong debate performance to catch up with Harris in the closing weeks of the campaign season. A Real Clear Politics average of polls has Sanchez trailing the attorney general by 13 points, 38 percent to 25 percent.
Claremont McKenna College political scientist Jack Pitney told the Associated Press after the debate that "Loretta Sanchez isn't any closer to the Senate than she was an hour ago." He added that Harris' performance as adequate, including making the argument that Sanchez was often a no-show in Washington while campaigning in California.
In what was probably the oddest moment of the evening, Sanchez appeared to “dab” after running over her allotted time as Harris looked on in stunned silence. The dab – a dance move popularized by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton – was meant to reflect Sanchez’s support among millennials, according to her campaign spokesman Luis Vizcaino.