SANTA ANA — Republicans went into the heart of the 46th Congressional District on Saturday, hoping to sign up new voters and regain some of the ground lost to Democrats in November when Democrat Loretta Sanchez upset incumbent Robert K. Dornan.
But after a full morning posted outside supermarkets, about 20 volunteers returned with only 20 to 30 new voter registrations, slightly more than half of which were Republican.
"It's not that great," said Brenda Quintana, a staff assistant to Assemblyman Jim Morrissey (R-Anaheim). "We need to get more people, blanket the area. And we need more Spanish-speakers."
The least productive sites appeared to be those in central Santa Ana, which is dominated by Spanish-speaking immigrants, many of whom may not be citizens.
Manuel Ortega, a retired Placentia police chief who now spends much of his time volunteering for the Republican Party, said he stood for an hour outside a Food 4 Less store near 1st and Bristol streets without signing up a single voter.
"I got the impression some of them were intimidated," he said. "When I approached them with the clipboard, some of them would back away from me."
Many said they were not yet citizens. One said he wanted to sign up for the party of President Clinton.
Farther south on Bristol, outside another Food 4 Less, Melissa Jasko and Sacha Bice had signed up two new voters in two hours--only one of them a Republican. Most shoppers brushed past quickly as Jasko and Bice tried to catch their attention in Spanish. "You can't always get 50 new voters," Jasko said. "At least these are two more people who will have a voice in their government."
Outside a Costco store in Garden Grove, volunteer Cindy Crowe helped register three new voters--all Republican. She said most shoppers had already registered to vote. "A number of the older folks asked if we were making sure the people are citizens," Crowe said. "They were concerned about that."
In coaching the volunteers before they left for various assignments at 10 a.m., Quintana reminded them to ask immediately whether the potential voters were citizens.
Dornan, in contesting his November loss, has claimed that many votes were cast by noncitizens. He has asked Congress to void the election results.
And state and local investigations have been launched into alleged voting by hundreds of noncitizens who were signed up by Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, a Latino advocacy group.
Several Latino activists have characterized the investigations and Dornan's complaints as racist "witch hunts" driven by a fear of the emerging Latino vote. In the past election, Latinos voted Democratic by an overwhelming margin.
Morrissey, who stopped by to talk to the volunteers as they wrapped up the registration drive Saturday, said those activists were "180 degrees wrong."
"They're trying to portray Republicans as the anti-God, but we're on the Latinos' side and we're trying to get Latinos to understand us," he said. "I personally believe that Latinos are closer to the Republicans than the Democrats, and we want to see if we can get them to register as Republicans."