Nguyen: Loretta tried to lynch me

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Theo Douglas reporting from ...

GARDEN GROVE--It was almost 9:30 election night, and when Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said on TV "The Democrats vow to lead the most open, honest and ethical Congress in history," the mood at 47th Congressional District Republican candidate Tan Nguyen's campaign headquarters turned sour. "That's a lie," a stocky man in a lime green sportshirt grumped. Make that sourer. No one ever thought Nguyen had a real chance against four-time incumbent Democrat Loretta Sanchez. He's had even less of one since someone--Jimmy Hoffa, perhaps--mailed a Spanish-language letter to about 14,000 Latino voters in this district warning them that illegal immigrants can't vote. "We'd done some polling that showed we had a decent lead," said one of Nguyen's campaign advisers, Ryan Flynn of San Diego, who wore a baggy campaign T-shirt with an "I Voted" sticker. "To see that disappear is very hard." Perhaps especially because--in the final throes of defeat--Nguyen's campaign couldn't even get behind a cover story for that letter. Their latest excuse is a rerun of their first--claiming they had nothing to do with it. Said Flynn: "You look at the letter, which Tan has no knowledge of--but even if he did, the media blew it out of proportion." It went on like that. "I didn't send it out, but I read it after the fact," Nguyen told me, dandling his nine-month-old son, Evan, who wore an "I Voted" sticker on his thermal T-shirt. Nguyen is still accusing his opponent--this time of being behind "the hysteria that's been created. Something doesn't smell right. She had rallies. She held press conferences to try to lynch me." She helped turn the voters against him, he said. "When you have images of a guy's home and office being raided--beamed all over the world--then we're trained to think that guy did something very wrong," Nguyen said. "We're seeing that by the early voting. But we're hopeful that we're going to win." Maybe not this election. Early returns, posted shortly after polls closed, gave Sanchez better than a 2,000-vote lead with 10,413 votes to Nguyen's 8,016. Two and a half hours later, both sets of numbers were up slightly, but the percentages--57 to 43--hadn't budged.

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