LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Ten-term California Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez on Thursday entered the race to succeed retiring U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer and will take on state Attorney General Kamala Harris, a fellow Democrat who was widely seen as the front-runner.
Sanchez said she hoped to become the first Hispanic woman elected to the Senate and the first Hispanic-American elected to that body from California.
"I do want my candidacy to inspire women, minorities and young people, and I want to inspire everyone who still believes in the American dream," Sanchez said as she announced her candidacy from a train station in her Orange County district south of Los Angeles.
Sanchez, 55, is the daughter of Mexican immigrants who settled in Southern California in the 1950s.
She was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1996, narrowly unseating six-term Republican incumbent Robert Dornan and easily defeating him in a rematch two years later.
A moderate Democrat in the so-called Blue Dog Coalition of Congress, Sanchez is the second-ranking member of her party on the House Homeland Security Committee and a senior member of the Armed Services Committee.
She and her younger sibling, fellow U.S. Representative Linda Sanchez, initially elected in 2002, are the first pair of sisters to serve in Congress at the same time.
Boxer announced in January she would retire in 2016 after 33 years in the House and Senate rather than run for re-election.
Harris, a rising star in the Democratic Party who was elected California's attorney general in 2010, became the first major figure of either party to launch a bid to fill Boxer's seat about a week after the senator's announcement.
Since then two Republicans - state Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, a retired Marine colonel from San Diego County, and Thomas Del Beccaro, a former chairman of the California GOP - have announced they would run.
They are expected to face an uphill battle against Harris and Sanchez in the lopsidedly Democratic state.
Under California's open-primary system, all candidates for each office compete on a single ballot, regardless of their party affiliation, and the top two vote-getters advance to a general election run-off
That system, designed to favor more middle-of-the-road candidates over ideologically extreme contenders in both major parties, allows for outcomes in which two Democrats or two Republicans face each other in November.
According to the Los Angeles Times, two other Latino Democrats from Southern California - U.S. Representative Xavier Becerra and former U.S. Army Secretary Louis Caldera - are also considering joining the race.
Editing by Paul Tait