- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 23, 2016

President Obama’s decision to snub Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez in the one-party California Senate race has triggered a testy intraparty feud that threatens to split the Democratic coalition along racial lines.

Ms. Sanchez unloaded on the president last week after he endorsed her opponent, Attorney General Kamala Harris, then followed up by suggesting in a Spanish-language interview that race may have been a factor.

“I think they have, what he said they have, is a friendship of many years. She is African-American, as is he. They know each other through meetings,” Ms. Sanchez said in the Friday interview on Univision 19, as translated by the Los Angeles Times.

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The comment came after she issued a scathing statement Tuesday accusing Mr. Obama of supporting the “entrenched political establishment,” adding that he should have stayed out of the state’s first-ever Democrat-on-Democrat Senate race.

“I am disappointed that President Obama chose to endorse in a historic Senate race between two Democrats. I would think the leader of the Democratic Party would be focused on defeating Donald Trump and supporting Democratic Senate candidates against Republicans,” Ms. Sanchez said.

Not to be outdone, Ms. Harris swung back Friday with a statement from four prominent Hispanic leaders, including California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, supporting the White House endorsement.

“The President and Vice President believe Kamala Harris is the best candidate in this race and we couldn’t agree more,” the statement said.

The episode illustrates the drawbacks embedded in California’s 4-year-old primary system, which puts all the candidates into one pool and then pits the two leading vote-getters against each other, regardless of party. Voters approved the change in 2010, but the 2016 race represents the first time two members of the same party have vied for a Senate seat.

The skirmish also serves as a warning that the underdog Ms. Sanchez, known for her fiery campaign style, does not plan to go quietly.

“I believe that California voters are deeply concerned about the entrenched political establishment which has failed to work for them,” Ms. Sanchez said. “Yet it has been clear for some time that the same political establishment would rather have a coronation instead of an election for California’s next U.S. senator.”

A 20-year congresswoman from Orange County, Ms. Sanchez trails by double digits in the polls but also wields a powerful asset in her longstanding relationship with the state’s increasingly influential Hispanic community.

California’s population of 39 million is nearly 39 percent Hispanic, slightly larger than its white population, whereas blacks constitute less than 7 percent of state residents, according to a Jan. 19 report by the Pew Research Center.

Ms. Sanchez, 56, has emphasized her background as the daughter of “hard-working immigrant parents,” while her supporters have noted that she would be the first Hispanic woman elected to the Senate.

Congresswoman Sanchez’s candidacy is an exciting opportunity for Californians to elect their first Latina to the U.S. Senate,” said Assembly Member Luis Ojeda, chair of the California Latino Legislative Caucus.

A victory by Ms. Harris, 51, the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, would make her the second black woman elected to the Senate after Carol Moseley Braun, Illinois Democrat.

A Field Poll released July 8 found Ms. Harris leading by 39 percent to 24 percent, but with 22 percent of voters undecided and 15 percent saying they would not vote for either candidate.

The poll also revealed a racial divide, showing Ms. Harris favored by white and black voters and Ms. Sanchez leading with Hispanic voters, as well as those under 40.

Nearly two-thirds of black voters — 66 percent — said they planned to vote for Ms. Harris, while 49 percent of Hispanics said they support Ms. Sanchez. Only 15 percent of black voters said they back Ms. Sanchez, while 24 percent of Hispanics plan to vote for Ms. Harris.

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