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Playboy Flap Works to Benefit of Sanchez's Opponent

GOP's Gloria Matta Tuchman finds that Democrats' infighting, resolved Friday, got the attention of voters.


Republican congressional candidate Gloria Matta Tuchman hardly expected to spend a sweltering Saturday in Santa Ana talking about Playboy magazine and naked women.

But that's the first thing people mentioned to Tuchman, Rep. Loretta Sanchez's opponent in the November election, as she walked door-to-door meeting voters.

Tuchman's campaign got an unexpected boost thanks to a Democratic dust-up over the Garden Grove congresswoman's initial refusal--and eventual agreement--to move a fund-raiser from the Playboy Mansion to more family-friendly environs. Party officials had yanked Sanchez' speaking role at this week's national convention, then gave it back to her late Friday after she announced the switch in venue.

All appeared to be forgiven Saturday among the Democrats, with Sanchez slated to speak Tuesday from 4 p.m.-5 p.m.--"cable prime time," Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Jenny Backus said. Backus insisted that Sanchez'sspeaking slot hadn't been downgraded. As a national party co-chairwoman, she will appear as scheduled with the other co-chairs, Backus said.

Sanchez's event for Hispanic Unity USA, a political action committee she heads, will be held later Tuesday evening at B.B. King's Blues Club at Universal Studios' CityWalk.

DNC national chairman Joe Andrew--who earlier chastised her judgment for selecting the Playboy site--said Sanchez's standing in the part remains intact. "I look forward to once again working closely with her as we reach out to voters all across America in making sure they feel that they're part of the Democratic Party," he said in Los Angeles.

Since she upset longtime incumbent Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) in 1996, Sanchez has been a folk hero in her working-class district--the first woman and first Latino to represent Orange County in Congress. But the Playboy flap highlighted the impulsive, flightier side of Sanchez, political observers said.

Tuchman sought to take advantage of the controversy while canvassing Santa Ana's largely Democratic Delhi neighborhood.

The Playboy event "is the first thing out of their mouths," Tuchman, a school teacher, said of voter reaction Saturday. "When her own party has to reprimand her . . . it's a bit disgraceful. They see that Loretta is out for Loretta. She doesn't represent their values and their traditions."

But Sanchez supporters predicted the controversy will fade after the convention ends and the focus shifts to the general election. Nor should it hurt her prodigious fund-raising abilities, they said.

"I don't see this hurting her in the long run," said attorney Wylie Aitken, her campaign chairman. "She made a decision for the good of the party."

Several Orange County Democratic activists said Sanchez got caught in a squeeze play between uptight Washington types horrified at the prospect of news footage of frolicking Playmates and the more laid-back Southland reaction to the Playboy Mansion, a frequent site of fund-raisers.

Times staff writer Richard Simon contributed to this story.

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