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Vietnamese American politician Van Tran plots a comeback

Van Tran, a groundbreaking Vietnamese American politician and former Assembly member, is making a run for the State Board of Equalization.

October 08, 2013|By Anh Do

The men had just finished their thick steaks and were starting to smoke cigars while artichoke hearts warmed on the grill. A plate of mooncakes awaited them nearby.

On a sunny afternoon in the backyard of his home in the hills of Orange, Van Tran plots his political comeback.

Once California's highest-ranking Vietnamese American politician, riding a wave of activism in the immigrant community where he came of age, Tran was bounced to the sidelines in 2010 when a veteran congresswoman, Loretta Sanchez (D-Santa Ana), trounced him in a U.S. House race.

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Now, nearly three years later, the former state assemblyman has set his sights on a slightly less glamorous office: the State Board of Equalization.

"We will raise whatever it takes to run a credible campaign," Tran says as his 6-year-old son, Alex, runs around the patio, clutching an iPad.

The father of two has gathered his "brain trust" of advisors to help steer him in a contest that, although not a run forCongress, is likely to be a scrappy, expensive battle.

The district seat — one of four in California — covers a huge swath, stretching from Orange County to San Diego and east to the Colorado River. The winner ends up with nearly 9.5 million constituents.

For Tran as well as other announced candidates — Assemblywoman Diane L. Harkey (R-Dana Point ) and state Sen. Mark Wyland (R-Escondido) — the race will take them far beyond their home turf. Tran, a lawyer who has always capitalized on his ties to the huge Vietnamese community in central Orange County, will suddenly be left wooing voters in Riverside and Imperial counties.

Political consultant Richard Temple said that "99% of the people who run are not known by voters. If they have a good story to tell and they know how to tell it well — and if they can raise the resources to back that up — they have a strong chance."

Tran said he never entirely stepped away from politics during his absence as an elected official. While doing consulting work, he helped launch phone-bank campaigns in swing states for theRomney-Ryan presidential ticket in 2012. Staffed with Chinese, Korean, Tagalog and Vietnamese speakers, it served as the only multilingual project targeting Asian Republicans or undecided Asian voters — one of the greatest untapped voting blocs in the showdown between Mitt Romney and President Obama.

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