Tan Nguyen – what went wrong?

So what went wrong with Tan Nguyen? I have yet to read any “inside” reports as to what led him to send out the now-famous letter to Latino voters in his district, essentially telling them they could get in trouble for voting. There is a lot more to the story than what we have read in the papers.

I ripped Nguyen mercilessly in the primary. I did not trust him as he was a Democrat house candidate just two years ago – I believe he ran against Dana Rohrabacher. However, he figured out that the top issue in the GOP primary was immigration. Remember that the immigration riots in Santa Ana were still fresh in our memories. Nguyen dumped a load of money into his campaign against Santa Ana School Board member Rosie Avila.

I thought for sure that Avila would trounce Nguyen. Surely she had more name ID than him – and Tim Whitacre was helping her. Early on he served as an MC at one of her major fundraisers, but as the campaign wore on he told me that he was not happy with Avila’s campaign. She was running a school board campaign instead of a congressional campaign, according to Whitacre. He had his hands full with the Bill Hunt campaign as well, so Avila ended up relying on her own circle of friends. She raised several thousand dollars but for whatever reason she sat on the money. That turned out to be a bad idea. Had she sent a mailer to voters telling them that Nguyen was a former Democrat, two years removed, she would have beat him, in my estimate. But she didn’t.

Nguyen also spent a lot of time and money in the local Vietnamese community. And he hired former OC GOP consultant Tom Fuentes as his consultant. The latter move cost him thousands, but it may have paid off. One question in my mind is if Fuentes was the one who made immigration the core issue of Nguyen’s campaign. If so, Fuentes may have unwittingly started Nguyen down the road that eventually got him into trouble.

Nguyen was also assisted from day one by his close friend Ryan Flynn. They used to work together at Merrill Lynch, if memory serves correct. Flynn was perhaps the hardest working campaign staffer I have ever met. I remember once, after an OC GOP Central Committee, inviting Flynn for a drink, and he said that he still had signs to put up – and it was already late. I also recall that when I worked with Flynn at the Fiestas Patrias event in Santa Ana, he told me that he had been beaten almost to death a few weeks before, while visiting friends in San Diego,where he and Nguyen originally hail from.

Flynn believes that someone spiked his drink, and he was attacked while going to his car. He does not recall the details. He woke up in the hospital and was told that police found him and called paramedics. He redlined twice on the way to the hospital. He looked a lot better when I saw him at the event in Santa Ana, but I recall that he tired easily and had to sit down from time to time. He was not the same after his beating.

I wonder now if Flynn’s beating played into the letter fiasco? At the time he and Nguyen were complaining about lack of support from the OC GOP. But they cancelled a fundraiser at OC GOP Chairman Scott Baugh’s house. And they did not work closely with the party or with the other GOP candidates in their area. They kept to themselves and stayed busy putting up signs all over town.

I suspect that Flynn’s injuries took the wind out of the campaign’s sails – and mired them in a descending spiral. Flynn’s condition may have fed the desperation that set in. The money was not coming in, and being new to the GOP they apparently did not see what the rest of us saw – the Democrats were headed for a terrible November, behind a horrible gubernatorial candidate in Phil Angelides. I wish that they had kept in touch with me. I wish that they had confided in me about their letter scheme. I could have stopped this – but like a train in the midst of derailing, there was no stopping them.

I have been ripped by anonymous commenters here at the Orange Juice and at Red County, for backing Nguyen in the general. However, as an elected member of the OC GOP Central Committee, I felt honor bound to back our candidates. Nguyen prevailed in a big way against Avila. He earned the right to represent the GOP – and when I finally met him at Whitacre’s office one night, at a 69th A.D. caucus meeting, he seemed intelligent and earnest. Who could have seen the letter fiasco coming? It was unprecedented.

I give major credit to Baugh for echoing my call for Nguyen to drop out of the race for the 47th Congressional District. I understand that we have until October 24 to collect 60 signatures in order for someone to qualify as a write-in candidate. That seems our only option now, although it is futile. We won’t defeat Loretta Sanchez this year – not a chance.

I am concerned going forward about the long-lasting repercussions of this disaster. There was already a lot of tension between the Vietnamese and Latino communities in Santa Ana. This will only make it worse. I recall a couple years ago a terrible battle that ensued when a “Welcome to Little Saigon” sign was put up in southwest Santa Ana. There was no reason to put it there – it was not really part of the “Little Saigon” community that is located in Garden Grove and Westminster. Activists in Santa Ana were incensed. And now we have the Nguyen debacle.

One anonmyous commenter suggested that this mess will have a negative effect on Janet Nguyen, if she runs for the Board of Supervisors in the future. I don’t think so. However, I do suggest that she needs to work with other GOP Vietnamese and Latino leaders to help fix the situation that Tan Nguyen landed us in. An ad hoc OC GOP working committee would be a good start.

Perhaps this event will lead future OC GOP candidates to shy away from immigration issues. However, there is a core constituency in our party that this issue is very important to. Lupe Moreno got 25% of the vote in the primary, without doing much, in her campaign for the 34th Senate District, because of this voter base. Figuring out how to move forward without losing these voters will be an ongoing challenge for Baugh.

Kudos to Andrew Davey for taking pictures at the Nguyen office this week when immigration activists and opportunistic Democrats ( such as Jose Solorio) gathered to see law enforcement officials search the office for evidence. I used his pictures throughout this post. You can see more of them at his blog. I also used a picture of a group of OC GOP Vietnamese electeds and candidates that I found at Viet Bao Daily Online. The pic
ture includes the ill-fated Tan Nguyen.

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"Admin" is just editors Vern Nelson, Greg Diamond, or Ryan Cantor sharing something that they mostly didn't write themselves, but think you should see. Before December 2010, "Admin" may have been former blog owner Art Pedroza.