The Campaign Spot

Will Liberals Learn to Love Ricardo Sanchez?

Democrats think they have a candidate who can win Texas’ open Senate seat: Retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez.

Democrats appear to have recruited retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez to run for the U.S. Senate in Texas, setting the stage for the party to field a well-known candidate in the 2012 race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, a Democrat, confirmed that Democratic Senate campaign chief Patty Murray, D-Wash., was referring to Sanchez on Thursday when she said Democrats were close to announcing a candidate in Texas.

Sanchez, reached by phone at his San Antonio home, asked where the reports of a Senate run came from and then said, “I can neither confirm nor deny.”

Sanchez, the former top military commander in Iraq who was left under a cloud from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, would not discuss the Senate race.

As far as your usual Senate candidates go, Sanchez will indeed have a more interesting life story and resume: rising from humble roots, one of the top ROTC students in the nation, platoon leader in the 82nd Airborne, led his mechanized brigade to Basra in Desert Storm, director of operations of Southern Command, and of course, commander of Coalition Ground Forces in Iraq. While he led the military effort, Uday and Qusay Hussein were killed and Saddam Hussein was captured.

But sooner or later, Sanchez will have to take stands on the usual domestic, economic, and social issues in what remains a very conservative state, where Democrats haven’t won a statewide race in seventeen years. So Sanchez will either become something akin to Zell Miller, a Democrat who is apostate on so many issues that his own party’s grassroots outside the state can’t stand him (and conservatives make him their favorite member of the opposition), or he’ll have to try to sell liberalism in Texas — in a year when the top of the ticket is Barack Obama, no less. Already, he is emphasizing that he’s going to be more to the right than the average Democrat:

“I would describe myself as during my military career as supporting the president and the Constitution,” Sanchez said. “After the military, I decided that socially, I’m a progressive, a fiscal conservative and a strong supporter, obviously, of national defense.”

Then, of course, there’s Abu Gharib. As Beltway Whispers notes at Red State, some of the Democratic senators who are hailing him as a candidate now were among those furiously denouncing him during the prison abuse scandal:

Senator Patty Murray, who steers the Democrats’ Senate campaign arm and vaguely teased reporters earlier this week of a top Texas recruit, said in 2004 that all those responsible for Abu Ghraib — no matter where they fell in the chain of command — must be held to account for their actions.

“These actions are a disservice to the thousands of American soldiers in the region who serve us honorably each and every day, and, sadly, are likely to make their efforts to calm a troubled region even harder,” Murray said of the controversy.

When former President George Bush tapped then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales to fill the nation’s top law enforcement post, Murray joined Senator Maria Cantwell in opposing the nomination over his green-lighting of Sanchez’s interrogation techniques.

In a 2004 statement, Senator Patrick Leahy accused Sanchez of authorizing “the use of techniques that were contrary to both U.S. military manuals but also international law.” “Given this incredible overstepping of bounds, I find it incredible that the reports generated thus far have not recommended punishment of any kind for high-level officials,” he added.

Of course, hypocrisy comes as easily and naturally to the likes of Leahy as breathing, and it seems unlikely that Republicans would try to use the Abu Ghraib issue against Sanchez in a Senate election. (However, Sanchez did call for a “Truth Commission” to investigate interrogation tactics under the Bush administration, a stance that may not play well in the Lone Star State.)

However, Sanchez probably will have a tougher time getting donations and support from the liberal grassroots – and it’s not unthinkable that some progressive Democrat might jump in, lest the party’s face in Texas be the man they hold responsible in part for a terrible national scandal. At Daily Kos, Sanchez is described as “complicit in one of the worst abuses in recent US military history, and worse, was part of an effort to sweep it under the carpet.” Also, ThinkProgress accuses him of lying to Congress; they write, “Sanchez himself wrote and signed a 2003 memo that included specific interrogation tactics approved for use despite noting that they may violate the Geneva Conventions. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sanchez denied signing off on these interrogation methods.”


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