Linda and Loretta Nail-biter victors: Republican Linda Smith, Democrat Loretta Sanchez: new political stars.

November 17, 1996

FOR STAR-QUALITY success stories in the 435 campaigns for the House this year, Republican Linda Smith of Hazel Dell, Wash., and Democrat Loretta Sanchez of Orange County, Calif., qualify for anybody's Top Ten list. Given up for lost on election night, they both now appear to be winners by razor-thin margins.

Ms. Smith, 46, a highly conservative member of that famous 1994 class of GOP revolutionaries, has already made a name for herself by publicly chastising Speaker Newt Gingrich for his lukewarm approach to campaign finance reform. Asserting "it is so corrupt back here," she denounced the interlock of money and influence she found on Capitol Hill, renounced contributions from political action committees and proposed a ban on political fund-raising within a 60-mile radius of the Capitol.

Ms. Sanchez, 36, has achieved instant fame as a Latino candidate who seems to have knocked off President Clinton's most caustic foe, Rep. Robert Dornan, in a campaign that displayed Hispanic political power. Earlier this year, Mr. Dornan presumed to run for president, a quixotic undertaking that gave him a chance to seek new depths in abusive oratory.

Linda and Loretta will have little in common other than their nail-biting post-election ordeals if and when they take office. With the exception of the campaign-finance issue, Ms. Smith was a Gingrich loyalist for whom the GOP leadership could never bend too far to the right. Ms. Sanchez had to make some conservative gestures in traditionally Republican Orange County, but she is likely to vote with Democratic liberals once the roll calls begin.

Both of these political women benefited greatly from hot-button issues that came to the fore in the decisive stages of the Clinton-Dole campaign. Ms. Smith's loathing of the corruption in American politics was validated when evidence of foreign money pouring into the Democratic National Committee forced both the president and Mr. Gingrich to renew their vows for reform. And the anti-immigrant crusade, which found its most vociferous expression in California's efforts to deny schooling to children of illegal aliens, brought out the Latino vote that led to Ms. Sanchez' apparent upset.

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