FOUNTAIN VALLEY, Calif. — In many ways, Dr. Mai-Khanh Tran isn’t all that different from millions of other Democrats who have been dismayed or depressed or indignant since Donald Trump was elected president.
On election night, Tran watched in shock as the returns rolled in. The next morning, she wept at work — Tran is a pediatrician — with her colleagues. Later, she joined the protesters shouting slogans and waving signs outside the Orange County offices of several Republican congressmen.
But Tran didn’t stop there. Last month, she actually decided to enter elected politics herself, launching a long-shot campaign to unseat 12-term Republican Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
While defeating Royce may seem like a tall order for a political novice, Tran, 51, has already spent her entire life overcoming impossible odds.
In 1975, Tran arrived in America as a 9-year-old refugee from war-torn Vietnam — without her parents. She spent her summers picking strawberries in rural Oregon, eventually working her way through college at Harvard as a janitor. And she survived two bouts of breast cancer and endured eight rounds of in vitro fertilization before finally getting pregnant at age 46.
“I think you’ve got to have total commitment to everything you do in life,” Tran said on a recent Thursday afternoon as she sipped from a bowl of bone-in kalbi soup on the patio of a new pan-Asian restaurant in Orange County’s Little Saigon. “You’ve got to do things for the right reasons. And when you have the right reasons — if what you’re doing is needed, on behalf of others — you will do it until you succeed. I truly believe that.”
Whether Tran can succeed her in mission to topple Royce remains to be seen. But if any place encapsulates the challenges facing Republicans in 2018, Orange County is it. And if any Democratic hopeful embodies the political crosscurrents that will likely define the coming midterms, Tran may be the one.