- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2000

LOS ANGELES Defying the party leadership, offending feminists and rejecting a coveted speaking slot aren't necessarily the best ways to achieve political stardom within the Democratic Party.
On the other hand, they seem to have worked for Rep. Loretta Sanchez of California.
Her well-publicized brouhaha with party leaders over her now-defunct fund-raiser at the Playboy Mansion has made her a top attraction at the Democratic National Convention, mobbed by reporters, cameras and delegates whenever she steps onto the convention floor.
Delegates who had never heard of her before the convention now know her name as well as they know Tipper Gore's. And while criticism of her behavior has been fierce National Journal dubbed her the "laughingstock of the convention" that hasn't hurt her reputation among the rank and file.
Indeed, her initial refusal to bow to Democratic Party leaders was seen by many delegates as a spunky show of independence rather than a foolhardy act of political suicide.
"She's an independent person. What she did was gutsy," said Camille Dunn, a California delegate from Lancaster who said she had never heard of Mrs. Sanchez before the Playboy flap.
Now, of course, she knows all about her. "You should have seen it yesterday people were swarming all around her," said Mrs. Dunn.
Bob Cooper of Pennsylvania was another Democrat who, a few days ago, didn't know Loretta Sanchez from country singer Loretta Lynn. Now, he calls himself an admirer.
"She's standing by her convictions, saying, 'I don't think I did anything wrong.' "
Delegates interviewed yesterday were split on whether the Democratic Party did the right thing in forcing her to shun the Playboy Mansion. Mrs. Sanchez agreed to move the bash, a fund-raiser for Hispanic Unity USA, only after party honchos threatened to pull her credentials and strip her of her title as Democratic National Committee co-chairman.
The event was held last night instead at B.B. King's House of Blues in Universal City.
"It's not the right time. I don't think we're ready, with Clinton and his scandals," said Mrs. Dunn. "It's good to lay low and let things die down, and then if you want, you can have the party."
Sergio Ramos, another California delegate, credited Mrs. Sanchez for standing by her convictions. "It just made her more popular," he said.
Whether the Playboy issue will play as well with voters is another question. After defeating former Rep. Bob Dornan twice for the Orange County seat, she now faces another Hispanic woman, Republican educator Gloria Matta Tuchman, in November.
Mrs. Sanchez has the fund-raising edge, having garnered $1.5 million, and the voter-registration advantage: The former GOP stronghold is now 45 percent Democratic and 36 percent Republican.
But the Tuchman campaign plans to use "Bunnygate" to its advantage. Mrs. Sanchez's decision to hold the bash at the mansion shows she is "out of touch with the district," said Tuchman campaign manager Jarryd Gonzales.
"It just goes to show she's out for Loretta that she cares more about Playboy parties than working families," said Mr. Gonzales.
He noted that the Orange County district has many top-notch hotels, including the Disneyland Hotel and Anaheim Convention Center, that could have been used for the party. What's more, he said, the mansion isn't a union operation, while many of the district's families are union members.
"This was a perfect opportunity to highlight her district, and she chose instead the bright lights and wet bars of Hollywood," said state GOP spokesman Stuart DeVeaux. "There are working families who are having their wages garnished to support her campaign [through union donations], and she chose a nonunion location for her event."
Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont-McKenna College in Claremont, Calif., said the flap could help Mrs. Tuchman, but that Mrs. Sanchez still has the advantage.
What may hurt her more, he said, is the reaction from national Democrats. "The biggest damage is to her reputation among Democratic elites in Washington," he said. "She's a loose cannon and someone they don't necessarily want to be associated with."
Even so, Mrs. Sanchez remained yesterday characteristically defiant. In an interview with CBS' "The Early Show," she said she hasn't ruled out holding a future fund-raiser at the Playboy Mansion.
She also criticized party officials for their handling of the issue. "Let's just say I've been treated better before," she said.

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