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GOP Calls for Withdrawal of Candidate
Complaints about the letters this week prompted a state probe, and a spokesman for California's attorney general said investigators had been questioning people in Orange County. U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman Cynthia Magnuson said the department's civil rights division was investigating in coordination with the state attorney general's office.
Numerous political leaders denounced the letter, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"If it is proven that a candidate was responsible for this action, that candidate is clearly not fit to serve the people of California and should withdraw immediately from his or her race," California GOP Chairman Duf Sundheim said in a statement.
In an interview Thursday morning, Sanchez said she had never spoken to Nguyen because her campaign didn't see him as a threat to her re-election.
"If it is in fact this guy (who sent the letter), the most disgusting and saddest thing about it is that it comes from another immigrant," said Sanchez, who was born in the U.S. to Mexican parents and whose 1996 election signaled Orange County's increasing diversification. "These communities have spent years trying to get naturalized immigrants to vote."
Nguyen's campaign Web site says he was born in 1973 in Vietnam, where his family fled the Communist regime.
In 2004, he unsuccessfully ran in the Democratic primary to challenge GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in a heavily Republican coastal district. He later changed his party affiliation and declared his bid to upset Sanchez.
State attorney general spokesman Nathan Barankin said he did not know how long the investigation would take, but did say that investigators "have identified where we believe the mailing list was obtained."
The owner of Huntington Beach-based Mailing Pros, Christopher West, said he did not know any laws were being broken when his company sent the mailer. "It was in Spanish, and I don't read Spanish," he said.
West said he gave investigators the name of the person who hired him, but he declined to provide that name in an interview.
The letterhead of the mailing resembles that of an anti-illegal immigration group, the Huntington Beach-based California Coalition for Immigration Reform. The group's leader, Barbara Coe, said she told investigators Wednesday that her group didn't authorize the letter and that she didn't know who sent it.
"The letterhead was altered, and I've never head of any Sergio Ramirez," the name signed to the letter, Coe said.
This is not the county's first dispute over alleged intimidation of Hispanic voters. In 1988, Republican Assembly candidate Curt Pringle posted uniformed "security guards" at 20 predominantly Hispanic voting places in Orange County.
Republicans said the guards were stationed to prevent noncitizens from casting ballots. Pringle and the county GOP paid $400,000 to settle a civil rights lawsuit alleging intimidation of Hispanic voters.
Associated Press writers Michael R. Blood in Los Angeles and Michael J. Sniffen in Washington contributed to this report.