LAKEWOOD — Rep. Loretta Sanchez and her sister are working toward a historic goal, becoming the first sisters elected to Congress.
Both are considered favorites to win their respective seats in neighboring Southern California districts in November.
While the attention has been on their relationship, political analysts say their races have another significance, the success of women and minorities.
“It’s not just sisters. It’s really raising the profiles of Hispanic American women,” said Nancy Snow, a professor of global media and political rhetoric at California State University, Fullerton. “I think it’s just a stamp of the future for politics for women and ... minorities.”
Rep. Sanchez, of Garden Grove, is one of the nation’s most prominent Hispanic elected officials, transforming herself from a failed city council candidate to Democratic success story when she unseated Orange County Republican Robert Dornan in 1996 in the 47th Congressional District.
Her sister, Linda Sanchez, is running in the newly drawn 39th Congressional District, which is overwhelmingly Democratic, Hispanic and blue collar. The district includes slivers of Los Angeles and Orange counties, including the cities of South Gate, Lynwood, Paramount, Lakewood and portions of Long Beach and Whittier.
Voter registration in the 39th District is 55 percent Democrat and 28 percent Republican. Hispanics account for 61 percent of its residents.
Recruiting Hispanic candidates is important to both parties, and the sisters both face Republican challengers who are Hispanic.
“In the rest of the nation, in more homogenous areas, it might be seen as a watershed. But in California, it’s the future,” Snow said.
Rep. Sanchez faces Jeff Chavez, R-Rancho Santa Margarita. Chavez has not been actively campaigning since shortly after his March primary win, when he said he would not be able to run because of undisclosed family problems.
Linda Sanchez, 33, a labor attorney, is running against Republican Tim Escobar, a 36-year-old businessman and an officer in the Army National Guard. Neither has held elected office.
Escobar, of La Mirada, has put up a fight in the campaign, labeling Sanchez an outsider who moved into the district just to run.
“If it wasn’t for her sister, she would have no political qualifications,” Escobar said. “I think we have so many more important issues than a cute novelty issue to deal with in this district.”
Rep. Sanchez, who is nine years older than her sister, played a highly visible role in her sister’s primary election but has since reduced her involvement to focus on her own campaign.