TEXAS (AP) – Retired Army Lt. Ricardo Sanchez, who was commander of coalition forces in Iraq when the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal became public, said in an interview published Wednesday that Democratic Party operatives recruited him for a possible U.S. Senate run.
Sanchez, 59, is likely to decide in the next few weeks whether to pursue the seat being vacated by Republican U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. The Rio Grande Valley native would be a boost for Democrats on the ticket and likely bring a strong appeal to Hispanic voters.
Sanchez conceded to the Express-News that Democrats may have recruited him to force Republicans to pour money into the race. He is a three-star general who blamed the Abu Ghraib prison scandal for his retirement in 2006, even though the Army exonerated him of wrongdoing.
At the time, Sanchez said then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the U.S. Senate wouldn’t confirm him for a fourth star and to head U.S. Southern Command.
Sanchez laughed when asked whether being elected to the Senate that forced an end to his military career would be sweet revenge.
“That’s not the purpose in my considering it,” Sanchez said. “Look, this is about service to country. Every one of those politicians in Washington at one point, or at least I hope at one point, decided to run for political office in order to serve the country.”
Sanchez would become the first prominent Democrat to seek Hutchison’s seat. The GOP has seen a cavalcade of Republicans eyeing Hutchison’s seat, including Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert.
Hutchison announced in January she would retire at the end of her current term.
Since leaving the military, Sanchez has written a book and been publicly critical about U.S. military strategy in Iraq, particularly the surge. He also has called himself a “progressive” in one interview as well as a fiscal conservative.
Sanchez told the Express-News that he’d run as a Democrat because of his upbringing in the border town of Rio Grande City, where he was born to poor, Mexican parents. He said he knows his campaign would be an uphill fight in Texas, where Republicans hold every statewide elected office.
Sanchez wouldn’t give the newspaper his positions on specific issues. But he cited the economy, deficit, education, energy, and family values as his chief concerns. In recruiting Sanchez, Democrats are ignoring any potential taint from Abu Ghraib and banking on his compelling life story and appeal to the state’s fastest growing demographic.
As a child, Sanchez grew up so poor he used cardboard to cover the holes in the soles of his shoes.
“I came from a broken home. I attended public schools my entire time. My family was on welfare most of my days growing up here in Texas,” Sanchez said. “So I understand the processes, the challenges, the factors that play on our poor. I understand the despair and also the desire to succeed and to try to get out of poverty.”
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