By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
The ongoing nervous breakdown/identity crisis in the Democratic presidential primaries probably has a very simple explanation.
Clearly there are two completely different kinds of people in this world, two distinct species whom we might as well label: Clinton People and Obama People.
Take an exceedingly small but charming sample of the population, a chatty focus group of two members of the House of Representatives, nestled close on a couch in the Longworth House Office Building.
They are both Democrats, both from California. They are sisters. But one is a Clinton person and the other is an Obama person.
This plays out as a sister thing.
Loretta Sanchez (for Clinton) has just removed the leopard print high heel from the left foot of her little sister, Linda S¿nchez (for Obama).
Loretta holds up Linda's shoe for inspection. This is the kind of thing big sisters do.
"You're the shoe person," says Linda with a shrug. She says she chose the heels to add a dash of Los Angeles flair to an otherwise somber Washington office get-up.
"Are they plastic on the bottom?" Loretta asks.
Okay, yes, confesses Linda.
Loretta shakes her head. "Plastic makes my feet all yucky," she says.
You know, sisters.
Back when Linda was elected, the sisters went house hunting to find a place together on Capitol Hill. Needless to say, they gave up on that idea. Different lifestyles. They wound up finding small separate places.
Along come the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries, and a sisterly wager.
"I proposed that whoever loses has to clean the other's room for a week," Linda says.
"This is terrible!" Loretta says. "Thank God I'm going to win. Because if I would lose it would take me a month to clean her one-room apartment. And if she comes to clean my house, the only thing she's going to have to do is run the vacuum."
"That's not true," says Linda. "I've seen your shower. It's filthy."
"No, it's not."
"Yes, it is."
"No, it's not."
"You've never even seen my apartment, so how would you know what my bedroom looks like?" says Linda. "It's very minimalist up here in D.C. It's like, monastic."
"Because I know you," Loretta says, hugging her little sister, cheek to cheek. "To know you is to love you."
Profiles of our focus group:
Loretta, Clinton Person: 48, elected in 1996, business degree, investment banker before entering politics, represents part of GOP-laden Orange County, member of the somewhat conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats, morning person, cat person, practical, organized, neat, spells Sanchez without an accent over the "a."
Linda, Obama Person: 39, elected in 2002, law degree, worked for labor unions before entering politics, more liberal, represents constituents in southeastern Los Angeles County, writes edgy jokes for her own stand-up comedy routines ("I know the pain of the U.S. soccer team. I know what it's like to only score twice in four years!"), night person, dog person, not so organized or neat, spells S¿nchez like that.
Linda uses the accent because she majored in Spanish literature, and it's technically correct. It's also a salute to her Latino heritage after previous generations tolerated Anglicized spelling.
"She's trying to reinvigorate her roots," says Loretta. "I've lived the roots."
Loretta is the second and Linda is the sixth of seven children of Mexican immigrants in Anaheim. Their father was a machinist and their mother an elementary school teacher. Their life experiences influenced their transformations into a Clinton Person and an Obama Person.
The family was poor when Loretta grew up, but was living more comfortably by the time Linda was a girl. Loretta figured out the university system for herself, then helped Linda through it, even paying for part of her sister's education.
Loretta says: "With more advantages, maybe you can manage to be more -- what do I want to say? -- more of a dreamer than the practical one. . . . This country is built on dreams, but it's also built on trailblazers."
Loretta also says: "I have much more appreciation for Hillary because she really is the first woman that we have the opportunity to . . . really get into the presidency. One of my fears is that if Hillary can't do it, it's going to set back a lot of us. . . . At least in my experience, it's much harder to be a woman in this society than it is to be a minority."
Linda answers back: "Loretta is sort of the practical older sister, the one who just -- I don't mean this in a derogatory way -- but just sort of shows up and does what is expected, sort of moves the ball down the field. As sort of a younger generation -- there's not a big age difference, but I feel it -- she's been in Congress twice as long as I have. She's seen how the inside-of-Washington game works."
Obama speaks to the dreamers trying to break into the game, Linda says. "His message is inspiring, it's hopeful, it calls to the best in people to work together to try to confront the very daunting challenges that our country faces."
The California primary is this (Super) Tuesday. At first, the sisters realized they were going in different directions on the nomination and decided not to endorse.
Then Linda got a phone call from Obama, whom she'd worked with on the Hill. She endorsed him just before the Nevada caucuses.
Loretta responded by calling Clinton and endorsing her the same day.
"I was like, 'What!' " Loretta says. "There's no way I'm going to let my sister get the jump on me."
The sisters have more respect for each other's candidates than for their pets. This relates to the nomination, because a pet will affect the state of an apartment to be cleaned.
"First of all, you got dogs, man," says Loretta, shuddering.
Linda protests that only one of her three dogs, Chavo the beagle, lives in Washington, and he spends most days snoozing on her office couch.
"She's got a big fat cat named Gretzky," adds Linda, grimacing.
"That's riiiigghhhht," Loretta purrs.
"Who is the most petulant . . . he just looks at you with disdain," says Linda.
"Get out of my nice clean apartment," says Loretta, proudly translating the look.
"And fur everywhere," says Linda. "He's awful. You should shave him. Bizzzzzzzzz."