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Calif. congresswoman apologizes for mocking Native Americans

Democrat Loretta Sanchez, a 10-term congresswoman and candidate for the US Senate, was captured on video making a whooping cry in reference to Native Americans at a state Democratic convention on Sunday.

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California Rep. Loretta Sanchez, left, rushes between events at the California Democrats State Convention in Anaheim, Calif., on Saturday, May 16, 2015.

Damian Dovarganes/AP

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U.S. Senate candidate Loretta Sanchez has apologized after a videotape surfaced showing her making a whooping cry in reference to Native Americans during an apparent joke.

Speaking to delegates at a state Democratic convention Sunday, the 10-term congresswoman said she said something offensive "and for that I sincerely apologize."

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The video, which was shared on social media, shows Sanchez tapping her hand over her open mouth and making a whooping sound while speaking to a group of delegates Saturday.

Her chief rival in the Senate race, Attorney General Kamala Harris, called the gesture shocking.

Sanchez said everyone makes mistakes and defended her record on civil rights, human rights and Native American rights.

Sanchez said American Indians have "a great presence in our country and many of them are supporting our election."

Harris, whose mother was an immigrant from India, said, "There is no place for that in our public discourse."

The incident came during a convention in which the 2016 Senate race played out among speeches and partying. The two Democrats are the leading candidates for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer.

On Saturday, Harris defended her qualifications on foreign affairs and national defense after Sanchezhad suggested she doesn't have the skills for the job in Washington.

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Harris told reporters that voters next year will determine who is qualified for the Senate seat, and her experience as a two-term attorney general and a former local prosecutor gave her the background she would need on Capitol Hill.

"I feel certainly equipped to have a sense of what California needs and wants as it relates to many issues," Harris said. As a career prosecutor, "I know the stuff they do in Washington actually impacts California."

Sanchez, who entered the race Thursday, spent Saturday dashing to and from convention meetings, shaking dozens of hands and posing for snapshots. When she entered the race last week, said that her long experience in defense and foreign affairs on Capitol Hill was essential in "perilous times," drawing a contrast with Harris.

Harris, in her speech to delegates on Saturday, twice referred to dysfunction on Capitol Hill. She never mentioned Sanchez, but the statements appeared to suggest that the congresswoman was part of the problem. Harris said that everywhere she travels as a candidate she is asked how she can "possibly expect to get anything done" in paralyzed Beltway politics.

Speaking later with reporters, Harris pointed to her work along the U.S.-Mexico border on drug trafficking as state attorney general.

The contest between the two high-profile Democrats has geographic, racial and political dimensions. Sanchez, 55, is Hispanic with a background in national defense issues and roots in Southern California. Over the years, she has belonged to a faction of moderate Democrats known as the Blue Dog Coalition. Harris, 50, a favorite of the party's left wing, is a career prosecutor from the San Francisco Bay Area whose father is black and mother is Indian.

Sanchez, speaking to members of the party's Chicano Latino Caucus, said she wanted to appeal across the state's diverse population. "We will win, and we will win with a fabric of everybody," she said.

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