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She Will Have Won the Battle, but Not the War

Politics: Sanchez, if she beats Dornan, will have to prove herself to Democrats in Washington. She'll also face the scrutiny of Republicans intent on retaking seat in 1998.


WASHINGTON — On Friday, Loretta Sanchez will arrive here, bleary-eyed from an overnight flight from California, for lessons on becoming a new member of the 105th Congress.

Though her election will still be in doubt, she probably will receive a special toast as "one of the bright new faces" of the new Congress, as Democratic Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) described her on Wednesday.

She will be hailed by Democrats as the woman who took down conservative Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove).

And then the honeymoon will be over.

Should Sanchez go on to win the 46th Congressional District seat, she will have to prove to Democrats that she is everything she promised in her campaign. At the same time, she will face the scrutiny of Republicans intent on retaking her seat in 1998.

There also will be problems in Orange County, where Sanchez can expect an armload of legal challenges from Dornan and his family.

First, Dornan has threatened to challenge the final results if Sanchez leads after all the ballots are cast.

Secondly, there is a misdemeanor citation pending against her husband, Stephen Brixey, in connection with tearing down a Dornan campaign sign in the heat of the campaign. Dornan's son, Mark, witnessed the alleged vandalism and made a citizen's arrest, which has a court date pending.

And then there is the Dornan family. The Dornan family had just received a late campaign mailer from the Sanchez camp. The mailer implied that Dornan opposes abortions, "except when it comes to members of his own family." The Dornan family was incensed.

"My mom and my sisters are taking her to court for libel and slander," Mark Dornan vowed.

The next two years will make or break Sanchez.

"If she wins this [race], she proves she's very tough. I'm optimistic she will do well," said Rep. Jane Harman (D-Rolling Hills), who successfully fought off an election challenge before the House Oversight Committee stemming from her 1994 election.

And if Sanchez is seated, Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Bakersfield) warned that she will find it tough being a member of the minority.

"Having been a member of the minority for 16 years [before Republicans gained control of the House in 1994], I understand the level of frustration and the inability to get a job done because you are in the minority. It's an experience every member of the minority has."

That means she can forget about getting legislation passed, unless she can successfully bridge the gulf between herself and the five other members of the Orange County delegation who are all Republicans, one member said privately.

Until now, virtually all that was known about Sanchez was that she was the young businesswoman who was trying to unseat Dornan. For the moment, that may be enough to satisfy Democrats who tired of Dornan's passionate conservative nature.

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