Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Garden Grove, announced Thursday she will run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Barbara Boxer, setting up a powerhouse political battle with state Attorney General Kamala Harris.
Tom Del Beccaro, a former chairman of the state's republican party and Assemblyman Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, R-Oceanside, have also announced their candidacies for Boxer's seat, but Harris has been widely considered the front-runner for the post.
Sanchez, 55, was elected to Congress in 1996 when she narrowly unseated six-term Republican incumbent Robert K. Dornan. She easily defeated him in a rematch two years later.
She ticked off a list of issues facing the state.
"We face a host of historic challenges — drought, terrorist threats, a broken immigration policy and budget deficits," she said. "And we must work to strengthen our schools, foster innovation, protect our environment and grow our economy."
Sanchez said she isn't afraid to buck the establishment.
"I believe in fighting for what's right and what's in our heart," she said. "That's why I voted against the Iraq War, when everyone else was beating the war drums."
The congresswoman cited her background serving in the Armed Services and Homeland Security committees.
"During these past 14 years of war and conflict, I have gone countless times to Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and other conflict zones to ensure our troops had what they need to survive and win, to see firsthand if our policies make sense, and to confer with our generals, captains and sergeants about ongoing operations," she said.
When asked where she stands on President Barack Obama's attempts to win support for a trade pact with Asian countries, Sanchez said Congress needs to have more say in the negotiations.
"Congress represents the people and we should not give our constitutional power away to just the president," Sanchez said.
Matthew Jarvis, an associate professor of political science at Cal State Fullerton, said Sanchez has a good chance of reaching a runoff with Harris, given the strength of Democrats statewide and the inability of Republicans to field a more viable candidate, Jarvis said.
Sanchez might even win some Republican votes as she has established a reputation as a "Blue Dog" conservative Democrat, Jarvis said.
"She has always tried to paint herself as more centrist," Jarvis said.
Harris has decided advantages in announcing first and name recognition, Jarvis said. She also has a base in the Bay Area as San Francisco's former district attorney, Jarvis said. That has kept her in the news in nine counties, he said.
"Loretta Sanchez has a longer time in the public eye, but that has been constrained to Southern California, and even then she's just one of dozens of members of Congress in the L.A. media market, and the L.A. media market can't just give any member of Congress that much attention," Jarvis said.
Sanchez's best chance would be to draw support from the national party, but she hasn't always been a favorite of the D.C. crowd, Jarvis said. He noted Sanchez offended many by holding a fundraiser at the Playboy mansion during the 2000 Democratic National Convention in 2000 as Al Gore was trying to emerge from the shadow of the sex scandal-tainted President Bill Clinton.
Also, since it's an easy race for Democrats to win there's little chance the national party will fuel an intraparty feud by funding one candidate over the other, Jarvis said.
"For the most part the party is going to pretty much sit it out," Jarvis said.
Sanchez is a former Republican. Her sister, Linda, a Democrat, is a member of the House of Representatives representing a Los Angeles County constituency.