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Sanchez, GOP Incumbents and Newcomer Issa Headed for Victory

The Republican businessman from San Diego hopes to succeed the retiring Ron Packard in the 48th District.


Shaking off the fallout from her ill-fated Playboy Mansion fund-raiser, Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) was far ahead of her opponent in early balloting while Republicans were headed for victory in every other Orange County House district.

Among the apparent GOP victors, San Diego businessman Darrell Issa--who spent about $2.5 million of his own money on his campaign--racked up a solid early lead in his quest to succeed retiring Rep. Ron Packard (R-Oceanside). Issa was helped in large part by his cash-strapped challenger's refusal to campaign.

Republican candidates celebrated their successes while watching with joy as early results from around the country suggested that the GOP had withstood a fierce assault from Democrats to take control of the House.

Orange County's only Democratic member of Congress, Sanchez said she felt mixed emotions watching Republicans retain control at the same time that she savored her third election-night victory party since wrestling her 46th District seat away from longtime Rep. Robert K. Dornan in 1996. Sanchez, a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, took time away from home to travel across the country during the election raising money for targeted House contests.

"That's a pretty big disappointment," she said of the Democrats' failure to wrest control of the House. "It would be easier to pass legislation if we were the majority party, obviously."

As results trickled in, Sanchez said she was "really excited" at the prospect of returning to Washington and exuded confidence as she hugged and joked with supporters in Garden Grove.

The flap earlier this year over her abandoned attempt to host a party fund-raiser at the Playboy Mansion--a plan that at the time infuriated Democratic leaders--did little to hurt her chances for reelection, she said, despite some predictions.

"When the public understood the issue, they agreed with me and saw me fight for something I believe in," she said. "They thought, 'When we see you fight for a principle, we know you're going to fight for our issues.' "

Republican hopes had been high a year ago for Gloria Matta Tuchman, whose campaign struggled with a lack of cash and visibility throughout the race. Tuchman seemed an ideal candidate for the district--a Latina who won 55% in the central county district when she lost for state superintendent of public schools in 1998. But Sanchez, sitting in the county's only congressional district where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans, was simply too strong, out-raising Tuchman by nearly 20-to-1.

Nonetheless, Tuchman received thunderous applause from a crowd of 5,000 two days before the election when she appeared with GOP vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney at a Costa Mesa rally.

It was a gesture of appreciation acknowledging the long odds, the kind that has greeted nearly every Democratic candidate challenging a Republican incumbent in the rest of the county's safe GOP districts.

Elsewhere in Orange County, early returns showed Republicans coolly shrugging off all comers.

In the 39th District, Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) was leading Democrat Gill G. Kanel, a party activist and business owner from Fullerton who hoped to sway voters by promising to reform health care, increase funding for education and improving mobility and transportation.

In early returns, Royce was leading Kanel with roughly two-thirds of the vote. In March's open primary, with the same candidates on the ballot, Royce got 69% of the vote.

Only about one-tenth of the voters in the 41st District are in Placentia, Anaheim and Brea in Orange County, with the rest in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.

Rep. Gary G. Miller (R-Diamond Bar), elected in 1998, was holding a solid lead over Democrat Rodolfo G. Favila, a retired police officer from Ontario. Miller, a former Diamond Bar assemblyman, won the seat after defeating Rep. Jay Kim, who was disgraced after a campaign fund-raising scandal.

Like his colleague Royce, Miller easily beat his Democratic challenger in the primary, which also featured the same candidates on Tuesday's ballot.

In the 45th District, six-term incumbent Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) was thwarting an energetic challenge from Democrat businessman Ted Crisell. The Democrat presented a definite political opposite to Rohrabacher, an unabashed conservative, and insisted that voters were ready for a change in the coastal district.

Nevertheless, early counts as of midnight showed the GOP veteran winning by more than 2 to 1--a ratio Rohrabacher attributed to his entrenched support in the district.

"If I win, it's not because I outspent my opponent, because I didn't spend anything," said Rohrabacher, adding that he devoted all his attention in recent months to campaigning for Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush.

Rohrabacher's colleague, Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach), was anticipating victory in the 47th District.

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