The Riggs Report: How not to run for office

Loretta Sanchez’s stumbling start in the race for U.S. Senate

If it’s not an axiom of campaigning, it should be. Political candidates should concentrate on running for office, not running away from reporters.

Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who is running for U.S. Senate, displayed an admirable sprinting style last weekend while attempting to avoid a KCRA reporter’s questions about her use of a “war cry” hand gesture while making reference to a pending meeting with Native Americans.

Sanchez had apparently just learned that her use of the gesture had been recorded on a smartphone by a political activist at the Democrats’ state convention in Anaheim.

Voters can be remarkably forgiving, as long as a candidate is willing to confront a mistake. But Sanchez, for whatever reason, dashed away from the news crew, giving the appearance of rushing to greet someone. As the video footage showed, there was no one there for her to greet.

Sanchez thus compounded the original mistake by appearing evasive. She apologized to convention delegates the following day for using the hand gesture, but that video of her dash lives on. And it’s sure to make appearances in TV ads by her opponents next year.

Sanchez is known for being an off-the-cuff, unrehearsed politician by her constituents in Orange County. In truth, if she’d been a conventional candidate, she might never have landed in Congress by unseating another flamboyant politician, Bob Dornan, back in 1996. Dornan, an unabashed hawk, had the nickname of “B-1 Bob.”

Sanchez also created a stir in 2000, when she scheduled a fundraiser during the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles at the Playboy Mansion; an event that was eventually canceled.

On Sunday, she made reference to that off-the-cuff style, telling delegates that mistakes are made when a politician doesn’t hide behind handlers. It was her way of drawing a contrast with California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who has displayed a cautious and controlled style since she also announced her candidacy for the Senate seat this year.

It was a good weekend for Harris, who described Sanchez’s hand gesture as “shocking.”

The only good news for Sanchez is, she made her errors very early in the campaign season, with the primary election more than a year away. But in the short term, it was an extremely awkward debut on a big political stage.