In the wake of the June 3 primary election, the 38th Congressional District race this fall is shaping up as one of the nation's most expensive and nasty contests.
Before dawn the following day, veteran Assemblyman Richard Robinson (D-Garden Grove) and Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) were already trading fire.
"Bob Dornan isn't capable of representing himself, much less almost 600,000 people of the 38th Congressional District," Robinson declared at his Santa Ana campaign headquarters, where he had celebrated victory over fellow Democrat, Orange County Superior Court Judge David O. Carter.
Robinson, who won 66.6% of the vote to Carter's 32.6%, added, "Dornan spends more time going to and from Nicaragua than on the congested freeways of the district."
At a victory party in Irvine on election night, Dornan lambasted "Dickie Robinson" before 3,000 applauding Republicans. He predicted "a tough race because Dick Robinson is going to become a sledgehammer in the hands of every radical and liberal in the nation."
Softening his tone slightly on Wednesday, Dornan said he would like to meet Robinson for "a cup of java" and arrange "a nice educational campaign" filled with debates. Still, he warned, if Robinson adopted the national Democrats' "attack dog strategy," to "get low down, dirty and personal . . . it will backfire all over Robinson."
Both Democrat and Republican officials have predicted that the battle between the flamboyant and outspoken Dornan, 53, who is seeking a second term, and Robinson, 42, a feisty, six-term assemblyman who gave up his post to run for Congress, will easily cost each side $1 million--and maybe more.
"For us to win it, I would expect a very thorough, very effective, very expensive campaign," said Mark Johnson, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington, which plans to target money, computer time and research for Robinson's race and two other California campaigns.
Robinson conceded that he will not be able to match Dornan's fund-raising ability but added, "I will get as much as I need."
Meanwhile, Dornan started preparing for the race well ahead of Robinson. The representative boasts a national following from his frequent television appearances on the "Crossfire" show and has a well-honed mailing list of 20,000 regular contributors. He had raised $217,625 by March 14 for his uncontested primary. By the same date, Robinson, aided by California legislators and labor union political action committees, had raised $160,264.
The election is critical for both parties, with Republicans vowing to hold the seat--which runs through central Orange County to Cerritos--and Democrats hoping to regain it. Dornan, in a major upset, beat Democrat Jerry M. Patterson, a five-term incumbent, in 1984. The loss was embarrassing because Dornan had only recently moved into the conservative, blue-collar district after losing his West Los Angeles congressional district because of a Democratic-sponsored gerrymandering.
With all the interest in the race, however, both Dornan and Robinson turned their attention back to legislative matters by last week. Campaign aides predicted a lull for the next month, then a hard-fought campaign through the fall.
Back in Washington
Dornan had flown back to Washington by the next day, while Robinson was in Sacramento to martial votes against construction of a controversial county jail near Anaheim Stadium.
"I'm committed to getting this damn legislative agenda through, and I've got to stop the damn jail!" he said, adding, "Good representation is good politics too."
But "once that is done, on weekends, I will be concentrating for the last five months (of the campaign) on precinct walking and starting to put together a massive (voter) registration effort," Robinson promised.
Both sides predicted that the contest would hinge on voter registration as well as issues and money. Leaders in both the Democratic and Republican parties have targeted the marginally Democratic district for voter registration drives.
Many Democrats had worried that a contested primary between Carter's "new leadership" campaign and Robinson's "old guard" politics would create a deep rift in the local Democratic Party. But Carter and his supporters said they will now unite behind Robinson.
Returning to the Bench
Carter, who called Robinson to concede the election, later said he would be returning to the bench and could not ethically endorse his opponent. But, he said, "if you ask me whom I'm going to vote for, it would be Robinson."
Also, Christopher Townsend, president of Democratic Associates, a group of young Democrats who endorsed Carter over Robinson, said he would be asking his members to back Robinson.
"It's going to be harder for a lot of (the Associates) to get excited," added Carter aide George Urch, an Associates board member. "But Robinson's the nominee. He won by two-thirds of the vote, and I'm going to do everything I can to help get the Associates involved."