Bob Dornan bombing again in bid to regain seat

October 28, 1998|By Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover

SANTA ANA, Calif. -- Although he was defeated for re-election two years ago after a controversial recount, his campaign pamphlets still say, to the surprise of no one who knows him, "Re-elect Congressman Bob Dornan."

And as the man known widely in Congress as "B-1 Bob," Mr. Dornan, who served in the House for 12 years, is picking up where he left off, all oratorical guns blazing, in his bid to regain the seat he lost by 984 votes in 1996 to Democrat Loretta Sanchez.

Mr. Dornan's style, put on display nationally during a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996, was in full flower here the other day before the Santa Ana North Rotary Club.

After accusing Ms. Sanchez of stealing the last election in California's 46th congressional district in strongly Republican Orange County, he also charged her with swiping "the work product of my life" in claiming credit for what he has done for the district.

For example, as a freshman House member she pushed through a bill he sponsored, but never got enacted, to provide funds for South Vietnamese commandos conducting missions for the United States forces during the Vietnam War. She also advanced various federal grants for the district that Mr. Dornan insisted were his babies.

And while President Clinton's troubles back in Washington do not seem to be a factor in other elections in California this fall, Mr. Dornan is doing his best to make them an issue here.

One of his campaign materials is a reprint of remarks Mr. Dornan inserted into the Congressional Record when Mr. Clinton was running for president the first time: "Gov. Clinton is a world no-class womanizer/adulterer and has told bold-faced lies about it," he declared then. "And he is a classic draft-dodger. I believe character is the most important issue in the race for the White House and as an issue will increase in intensity as a national point of focus."

Mr. Dornan told the Rotarians here: "Folks, I told you he was an immoral predator, womanizing serial adulterer, triple draft-dodging, financially corrupt person. . . . Was I right, or was I not?"

Asked if he thought the president's conduct would be a factor in his contest with Ms. Sanchez, he replied: "I hope and pray we're not going to reward the Democratic Party for spinning and helping to protect this guy. Loretta's protecting him."

Such language sets Mr. Dornan apart from most of his fellow Republican candidates this fall who, while calling for Mr. Clinton's resignation or censure for his conduct with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, have not injected the matter into their campaigns.

Ms. Sanchez voted for the Democratic alternative proposal for an impeachment inquiry and against the Republican version that passed. But Mr. Dornan's tongue-lashing of Mr. Clinton, and of Ms. Sanchez for supporting much of the president's policy agenda, has not appeared to do him much good. A new poll published in the Orange County edition of the Los Angeles Times has 48 percent of likely voters surveyed favoring Ms. Sanchez, to only 34 percent for Mr. Dornan. But with 17 percent in the poll undecided, Mr. Dornan is not letting up.

Ms. Sanchez, meanwhile, has been running strongly among the 23 percent Latino population in this normally Republican district. Also, she has been riding a tide of financial support from Latino, abortion-rights and other women's groups ever since a House subcommittee reviewed the 1996 election and found no grounds to reverse it. It specifically rejected Mr. Dornan's charge that immigrants were illegally brought to the polls to defeat him.

If Clinton-bashing figures to work anywhere, the Republican bastion of Orange County would seem to be the logical place. But the candidacy of the controversial and flamboyant Dornan appears not to be the best vehicle for it, to Ms. Sanchez' advantage on Nov. 3.

Jack Germond and Jules Witcover write from the Washington Bureau.

Pub Date: 10/28/98

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