Dan Morain

Sanchez bumbles like a fox

U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez applauds in the background as her sister, U.S. Rep. Linda Sanchez of Whittier, speaks during the first day of the Democratic National Convention.
U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez applauds in the background as her sister, U.S. Rep. Linda Sanchez of Whittier, speaks during the first day of the Democratic National Convention. The Associated Press

Donald Trump should be loving the start of the Democratic National Convention.

Thanks to hackers, maybe from Russia, Democratic National Committee officials’ emails became public, disrupting of the start of what was supposed to be a less wild version of the raucous Republican reality show in Cleveland.

At a breakfast for California delegates, Bernie Sanders delegates hooted and booed at any mention of Hillary Clinton, leaving saner heads with a sense of dread that, yes, Trump could win.

And then there is Rep. Loretta Sanchez, the Orange County Democrat running for U.S. Senate. She can easily be dismissed as bumbling and ham-fisted. In any normal year, she would be an also-ran.

Her opponent, Democratic Attorney General Kamala Harris, leads in the polls and has raised far more money. The California Democratic Party has endorsed Harris, as did President Barack Obama. But Sanchez is showing herself to be shrewd and opportunistic, traits that often can lead to advancement.

Responding to Obama’s endorsement in a way that would make Trump smile, Sanchez issued a statement saying: “California voters are deeply concerned about the entrenched political establishment which has failed to work for them.”

Never mind that Sanchez was first elected to the House in 1996, the year Obama won a seat in the Illinois state Senate, or that California voters don’t seem to be holding Obama responsible for whatever failings Sanchez had in mind. The most recent Field Poll showed 57 percent of them think Obama is doing a fine job.

Sanchez took her claim a step further on Friday by showing up at a Spanish-language television station and explaining away the Obama endorsement by saying Obama endorsed Harris because they both are black.

Although it was crass, Sanchez’s statement reflected a certain political calculation. She was attempting to appeal to Latino voters by injecting racial politics into the campaign. When The Sacramento Bee and other publications wrote about it, she claimed she misspoke. Right.

She ignored that Harris and Obama’s relationship dates back more than a decade. As San Francisco district attorney in 2004, Harris helped Obama raise money in San Francisco in his race for U.S. Senate.

A few years later, when Obama was a first-term U.S. senator challenging the Clinton machine, Harris slogged through the snow and cold to help Obama win the Iowa caucus. When Harris ran for attorney general in 2010, Obama took the time to hold a fundraiser for her at the Atherton home of former Controller Steve Westly.

In that election, the Republican State Leadership Committee – then headed by George W. Bush’s counselor, Ed Gillespie, and devoted to helping Republicans take control of state houses – spent more than $1 million to block Harris’ victory.

Republican bigwigs believed Harris could become a formidable leader in the state, and they were right. Harris is everywhere this week, playing on a national stage like she owns it and schmoozing with delegates and appearing in forums and cable news shows.

Sanchez has far less to do but did manage to get national face time by inserting herself onto the national stage Monday evening, standing behind her sister, Rep. Linda Sánchez, and grinning, as Linda addressed the convention.

It was an odd scene, given what Loretta Sanchez said about Obama the other day. But as the 19th-century machine boss once said, Loretta Sanchez seen her opportunities and she took ’em.

On Monday, she showed up at the Marriott in downtown Philadelphia, where California delegates had massed for the convention, and answered a few questions from a Spanish-language television reporter.

As the interview ended, Christopher Cadelago, The Bee’s reporter covering the Harris-Sanchez race, tried to ask a few questions. Sanchez responded by skittering away. Her mad dash for the exit might sum up her faltering campaign. But this is no normal year.

She was making a play for Latino votes, as she did a a few years ago when she claimed a challenger of Vietnamese descent was trying to take her seat, which, she claims, is a Latino seat. And she has played a Trump card by saying that between 5 and 20 percent of Muslims support a caliphate. Her thinking may be muddled, but she is calculating.

She’s getting support from Republicans, mostly notably conservative Orange County radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt, who, after initially being critical of Trump, said Republicans should “close ranks around Trump.” Of Sanchez, Hewitt said: “I’ve known Loretta Sanchez forever. And she’s going to make a great senator.”

If there was any doubt that Trump can win, polls released after the Cleveland convention show him ahead of Clinton. Sanchez trails Harris, for now. No one has seen a year quite like 2016.