The Battle for America 2010: Something Stinks in California's 47th Congressional District
California's most hotly contested House race, the contest between seven-term incumbent Democrat Loretta Sanchez and California Republican Assemblyman Van Tran, remains too close to call. The Orange County race made headlines last month when Congresswoman Sanchez claimed on Spanish-only Univision that "the Vietnamese (were) coming" for her seat. You can read my Pajamas Media article on the race as well as an interview with Van Tran here.
Now something smells as bad as trash-truck juice on a Death Valley summer day in California's 47th.
In search of the olfactory offense, I point the reader to a Van Tran mailer masquerading as a fragrance sampler, making its way to the mail boxes of likely voters in Garden Grove, Santa Ana, and Anaheim.
Don't judge this book by its cover; it's no ordinary fragrance sampler:
The Loretta fragrance sampler mailer, opened:
Following the command to "scratch here" on the $100 medical mask-donning face of Benjamin Franklin, a constituent is greeted with the pungent odor of trash, garbage, or the just-plain-unidentified-stinky. Designed by former California Republican operative Ryan Clumpner, who now works for Missouri-based Axiom Strategies, the ad strikes a perfect blend between humor and visceral disdain for malodorous Washington corruption.
I can speak for myself to the simple brilliance of the mailer, as this one would have caught my eye and most likely would have evaded the wastebasket fate of dozens of political mailers jamming up my local postal box recently.
Some in the California political chattering class claim a subliminal sexist tone to the mailer, as it depicts a seductive Loretta Sanchez donning a red dress. Assemblyman Van Tran claims such as rubbish, telling Fox News, "Not at all, it basically addresses the corruption, the greed, and the ethics issues she's facing right now."
Sanchez campaign spokeswoman Caroline Hogan told the Orange County Register that the mailer was "in bad taste" and, even worse, "ill-smelling spam." Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, putting up the political fight of her life against Van Tran, took things further, stating: "We have been here trying to talk about the issues ... and he's sending scratch and sniff ad stuff. People are disgusted."
I wonder if she scratched it, much less sniffed it, herself. And for someone who insists she is confident of winning on Tuesday, it seems that Sanchez is walking on eggshells.
Last Friday I visited Van Tran headquarters to film a PJTV interview and profile of the candidate, to be released this week.
The folks in the Van Tran campaign were a pleasant bunch. After meeting them I could sense that they are having fun (easily evidenced by the humorous mailer too), working hard, and ready to win. At the same time, I gathered that they are perfectly able and willing to go back to normal life if the election doesn't go their way on Tuesday.
Central command for Van Tran is set up in a foreclosed Blockbuster building in Garden Grove, a city of 175,000 in northern Orange County. The building was essentially stripped of most things that one would associate with the past life of movie rentals such as shelving and other interior structures. Although the sign had been removed, the outline of the letters B-L-O-C-K-B-U-S-T-E-R were still clearly discernible on the building's stucco exterior.
It was somewhat dirty inside, a proverbial makeshift campaign war room with folding tables set up for walk-in volunteer phone bank folks. Van Tran signs were strewn graciously and haphazardly across the walls, and there was a constant buzz of activity. The accommodations were functional but not flashy.
Van Tran campaign manager George Andrews took me to a back room to discuss recently released polling showing Tran and Sanchez tied. I gazed around the room: among political paraphernalia were burned-out and crusted-over coffee makers, empty pizza boxes, and coffee cans stacked in a corner. On the other side of the room were piles of Van Tran signs and banners -- things that no doubt soon found a home on the front lawns of Orange County GOP faithful.
Home base for the Van Tran team is not exactly the portrait of an ascendant campaign featured in a typical Hollywood production or West Wing-esque production. But like the candidate himself, it was real, tangible, and emblematic of the "normal folk" running for office this year, especially tea party candidates from various walks of life.
As I spoke with Van Tran, campaign workers in the building kept about their business but watched the mild-mannered Vietnamese American candidate with obvious respect. As the cameras rolled, they continued their business. When our filmed chat came to a close, he thanked us and then sat down with volunteers across the room.
"Probably making calls for the campaign too," I thought.
It seemed no one working in this race had a job above or below their job title and that's exactly how it should be, when the right people are running for office, surrounded by the right people, for the right reasons.
I highly doubt my experience would have been even remotely similar inside the campaign headquarters of a certain seven-term congresswoman fighting for her own very political survival.
And that's no scratch-and-sniff matter.