What About B-1 Bob?

While He’s Slinging Rhetoric, Dornan Isn’t Campaigning Much

Posted February 23, 2004 at 6:48pm

He’s charged the sitting Congressman with being an Islamic apologist, a liar and of having lived “a self-indulgent life of surfing and using drugs.”

But the most striking aspect of former Rep. and one-time presidential candidate Bob Dornan’s (R) quixotic bid to oust Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R) in California’s Orange County-based 46th district may be the singular lack of effort he’s expended on the race with just a week left before the GOP primary.

By his own admission, the 70-year-old Dornan is not actively raising money. The roughly $160,000 he said he has on hand is largely in the form of a $150,000 personal loan. He’s conducted no polls, has no phone banks and has so far shunned the hustings. In a wide-ranging interview last week, he declined to say whether he’d sent out any direct mail.

“That is a strategic question,” he said.

The conservative writer David Horowitz, a Dornan backer whose Web site — frontpagemag.com — has served as a forum for several critiques of Rohrabacher’s Mideast policy, concedes that Dornan, the former B-movie and television actor, has not waged much of a challenge.

“I told him if he wanted to send out a fundraising letter or have an event I’d be there,” said Horowitz, noting that Dornan never followed up on his offer of assistance.

“As a county party chairman who’s observed races year in and year out for the past 20 years, this is about as low key a challenge as I’ve seen,” added Thomas Fuentes, chairman of the Orange County Republican Party.

What Dornan appears to lack in action, he has more than made up for in rhetoric, however.

“My acquaintance Dana Rohrabacher is marinated in terrorist blood money,” said Dornan, a die-hard supporter of Israel. “That’s why I came into this race.”

He points to contributions in the mid-1990s totaling $800, which records show Rohrabacher received from Abdurahman Alamoudi — the jailed Muslim leader charged with accepting money from Libya — as just the tip of the iceberg. All in all, Dornan alleges Rohrabacher has accepted more than $34,000 in campaign contributions over the years from individuals and organizations associated with radical Islamic groups.

Irrespective of the primary outcome, Dornan pledged to stay on the path “to shape [Rohrabacher] up or drive him out of office,” unless the eight-term Congressman “returns $34,400 to charitable organizations that take care of victims of the Middle East” violence.

“Do you think I’m going to let go of this on March 2nd?” he asked, referring to the GOP primary date.

To which Rohrabacher, who has refused to debate Dornan, replied: “Bob Dornan is acting like a racist … to suggest that every American with an Arab-sounding name is ipso facto a terrorist.”

In the past, Rohrabacher, 56, has compared Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, taken trips to the Middle East paid for by the Arab American and Islamic institutes and voted against a 2002 House resolution expressing solidarity with Israel in its dealings with Palestinian terrorism. But he maintains that he is “a Rabin Zionist.”

“Both sides do wrong things and need to be condemned when they do,” said Rohrabacher, a one-time speechwriter for former President Ronald Reagan.

That stance has rankled some Golden State Jewish-American Republicans.

J. Harvey Karp, chairman of the executive committee of the Republican Jewish Coalition of Orange County, said his group had planned an event with the candidates this week, but canceled it after Rohrabacher refused to appear at the same venue as Dornan, even if the two showed up at different times.

Given Rohrabacher’s “affiliations and thinking regarding terrorism and things that have to do with Israel,” Karp said, “very few” of the chapter’s 180 members would likely be strong supporters of his, though he said that did not translate into automatic support for Dornan.

Likewise, Howard Klein, a member of the executive committee of the Lincoln Club of Orange County, a prominent Republican group that has endorsed Rohrabacher, said he was personally “troubled by [the] moral equivalency argument he makes between Israel and the terrorist regimes and dictatorial regimes that want to drive it to extinction.”

“He is impervious to fact, reason or empirical evidence to the contrary,” said Klein, who does not live in the district.

Next Tuesday’s primary hardly marks the first time that Dornan and Rohrabacher have butted heads politically.

After the 1992 redistricting shored up the already Republican 46th district, Dornan considered running there as opposed to the less secure, reconfigured central-county 47th district, but he ultimately agreed not to run against Rohrabacher.

“I was the top dog in Orange County,” said Dornan, who believes Rohrabacher lied to him about the state of his father’s health to keep him out of the race.

Dornan won re-election in 1992 and 1994 in the 47th, but lost in 1996 to now-Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D) by just 984 votes — a defeat he contested, charging voter fraud. At the time, he blamed Rohrabacher for not doing enough to back the federal investigation into the charges of voter fraud, and later criticized him for not sufficiently backing him in his 1998 rematch with Sanchez.

In 1999, Dornan again weighed a Rohrabacher challenge, but decided against it when his son Mark launched his own unsuccessful bid for the seat currently held by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).

But Dornan’s former Chief of Staff Brian Bennett, whose relationship with the conservative Congressman was strained after Bennett’s 1997 admission that he was gay, said that despite the candidates’ history, he believed Dornan’s bid was motivated “more for public policy reasons than for revenge or any thought of vendetta against Dana.”

Dornan, a former military pilot, has spent much of his post-Congressional life as a radio talk-show host, broadcasting from the Washington, D.C., metro area. He owns a home in Virginia, as well as one in Sanchez’s district, but just recently began “leasing to buy” in Sunset Beach, in the 46th district. Dornan is not required to live in the district to run, however.

“I think he misses the limelight, he misses the attention,” said Sanchez, who said she’s counseled Rohrabacher not to worry because “this guy goes away.”

As for the Dornan challenge, the Rohrabacher campaign “is vigilant” but “not sweating it,” said campaign consultant Dave Gilliard. An internal poll commissioned by the campaign in late January predicted a “double digit” win for the surfing Congressman, Gilliard said, noting that Rohrabacher’s name-identification favorables clocked in at 60 percent compared to 32 percent for Dornan.

Rohrabacher has also been aided by recent fundraisers headlined by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), which together brought in roughly $350,000. And Rohrabacher’s wife and campaign manager Rhonda, who is expecting triplets in April and currently on bed rest, said the campaign planned “a big precinct walk” this weekend, as well as Washington, D.C., fundraisers at Kelly’s Irish Times and Signatures during the week.

“We haven’t taken anything for granted,” she said.

As for Dornan — who said he called the FBI last week regarding harassing phone calls and faxes made by individuals affiliated with Islamic groups that have supported Rohrabacher in the past — he had planned to meet this week with the Republican Jewish Coalition of Orange County before the event was canceled and two additional unnamed groups, but did not specify any other campaign plans.

“Sometimes people get motivated by an issue and not necessarily motivated by, ‘Will I win?’” said GOP consultant Arnold Steinberg, who worked on Dornan’s inaugural 1976 Congressional campaign. “They just want to discuss a certain issue.”