Republican Van Tran, the Orange County congressional candidate running against Democrat Loretta Sanchez, answers reporter questions after a locally televised congressional debate October 13, 2010.
Election night could be a nail biter in central Orange County.
Since winning a tough battle to get elected in 1996, Democratic Congresswoman Sanchez has easily won re-election six times. This time, she’s getting a run for her money from popular Republican Assemblyman Van Tran.
And the district’s Latino and Vietnamese-American voters are getting a lot of their information about the race from ethnic media.
Much of the battle is playing out in Spanish and Vietnamese media. OC Weekly columnist and AirTalk contributor Gustavo Arellano is watching both mainstream English and Spanish media.
"The Spanish-language media, with the exception of La Opinion here in Los Angeles and the Univision channels, it’s all fluff pieces," Arellano says. "It’s usually family-run operations that will go out and cover an event — say, like the opening of a children’s health clinic — and they’ll have a picture of Sanchez and a caption as a story. So there is no in-depth political coverage."
Arellano says Spanish-language media tends to report what the candidates’ press releases say.
But Tran caught the Spanish-speaking spotlight when Sanchez went on Univision and said the Vietnamese and Republicans were trying to take her seat. Tran blasted her for that.
"But outside of that, there really is not much coverage of Tran because Tran does not agree with the editorial boards at most Spanish-language media in his approach to the question of amnesty for illegal immigrants," Arellano explains. "Sanchez, of course, has been on the record as saying, 'We need amnesty. We need some sort of program.' And so as a result of that, she gets softball treatment by the Spanish-language media."
Arellano says Tran won’t go on the record on amnesty, so he gets mostly ignored by the Spanish-language media.
Arellano says even if there were a scandal in the race, the Spanish-language media would likely keep its focus on immigration.
"All really that matters to the Spanish-language media right now is the question of immigration because that is the biggest question that its readership has," Arellano says. "Does any prospective candidate — what is their position on amnesty? Are they for it? Are they against it? Are they for the Dream Act? Are they against the Dream Act? Everything else is secondary."
But in the district’s Vietnamese-language newspapers, immigration isn’t as big of an issue.
Hao-Nhien Vu is the managing editor at Nguoi Viet Daily News in Westminster. It’s the largest Vietnamese-language newspaper in the United States.
He says his readers care more about the economy and jobs than immigration. But he says they also want to know how Tran or Sanchez would deal with Vietnam’s communist government.
"The community wants to know that their representatives in Washington will take care of issues of freedom of religion, issues of human rights, of freedom of speech, of arbitrary arrests, of dissidents — all of those issues that are happening in Vietnam," Vu says.
But Vu says if you look at some Vietnamese blogs, mass e-mails and Internet-driven advocacy, there's a different message.
"There’s a lot of people really going strongly in one way or another and really playing up race cards and, you know, 'She’s a Mexican' and 'We’re Vietnamese. We ought to vote for Vietnamese.' Or that Van Tran hasn’t been doing anything against the communists. Only Loretta did that," Vu says.
"There’s a lot of totally fringe opinions like that. And, you know, if you add them all up together, it’s probably being seen by a lot of people."
Vu says those blogs blasted Sanchez for her “Vietnamese” comment on Univision. But he says it didn’t make much of a wave in the mainstream Vietnamese media.
Part of the reason, he says, is the comment had to be translated from Spanish to English and then to Vietnamese. Vu says readers assumed the meaning may have been lost in translation. And Vu points out that Tran has played the race card, too.
"Part of the platform that Van Tran started running out of when he first announced, is that only a Vietnamese can really take care of the Vietnamese community. He’s been saying that a lot," Vu says.
But Vu says Tran backed off once Sanchez made her “Vietnamese” comment on Univision.
It's a battle that's playing out in an ethnically diverse congressional district. Forty-four-percent of the voters here are Latino and they tend to vote Democratic, if they vote.
Nearly 18 percent of the registered voters in the district are Asian — mostly Vietnamese. They tend to vote Republican, though Vu points out that both Sanchez and Tran are popular in the Vietnamese-American community.
And Vu says they vote for sure because they went through so much to get here. He says there's a strong sense of civic duty.
"And this year, there’s this Sanchez versus Tran race where the sense is that the two candidates are very close, even within the Vietnamese community," Vu says. "And so everybody is thinking, 'I’d better go to vote because maybe my one vote will make a difference.'"
A handful of votes haven’t made a difference for Loretta Sanchez for 14 years. But this year could be different.