Republican Rep. Robert K. Dornan, a flamboyant and eccentric Garden Grove conservative, won easily in a heated Orange County election slugfest with Democratic challenger Richard E. Robinson, but Democrats held on to a commanding majority of California's 45 congressional seats.
Shortly before midnight, Dornan claimed victory, taunting Robinson, a veteran assemblyman, for waging what Dornan called an ineffective and invisible campaign.
"I don't believe I had a very formidable challenger," Dornan said. "I've seen him twice in eight months."
Earlier, surrounded by family members as he watched televised returns from a South Coast hotel suite, Dornan noted that his apparent victory over the acid-tongued Robinson came despite a Democratic registration edge in the district.
"I have made this into a safe conservative district," Dornan declared as he played with his year-old grandchild.
The congressional balloting produced no surprises and the makeup of the state delegation--which composes more than one-tenth of the House--remained at 27 Democrats and 18 Republicans.
Though early returns were fragmentary, a trio of Republican newcomers held on to comfortable leads in races to replace the three incumbents--all GOP lawmakers--who are retiring from Congress this year.
Simi Valley Mayor Elton Gallegly coasted to an easy victory in the race to replace Rep. Bobbi Fiedler of Northridge in the 21st District, while Assemblyman Ernie Konnyu took over from Rep. Ed. Zschau of Los Altos. Assemblyman Wally Herger assumed the seat of Rep. Gene Chappie of Roseville. Chappie retired from Congress, while Fiedler and Zschau battled each other in the June primary for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate, which Zschau eventually won.
"I feel very, very, very good," Herger told reporters after returns showed him leading his Democratic challenger in all of his Northern California district's 12 counties.
On the whole, California congressional races have become predictable affairs because of wholesale gerrymandering engineered by Democrats in 1980, which turned most districts into safe enclaves for Democratic and Republican incumbents.
The Orange County seat held by Dornan for the last two years was one of the few swing districts left by the map makers, with voters displaying a decidedly conservative tilt even though registered Democrats slightly outnumber registered Republicans.
Dornan, a former TV talk-show host, had been a three-term congressman from Santa Monica until the Democratic redistricting plan eased him out of the old 27th District in 1982. He moved to Garden Grove and took on Democratic Rep. Jerry Patterson in 1984, beating the incumbent by a margin of 8% after a high-spending, bruising contest in which Patterson dismissed Dornan as "nearly a lunatic" and Dornan scored Patterson as a "sneaky little dirt bag."
The debate this year between Dornan and Robinson did not get much loftier or substantive. The tough-talking combatants spent most of their campaigns attacking the credibility of each other's military records. Dornan accused Robinson of hyping his resume to make it appear he was a Marine aviator in Vietnam when he was not. Robinson claimed that Dornan, a peacetime Air Force pilot, had issued misleading biographical material, falsely implying that he had fought in Korea and Vietnam.
Robinson also accused Dornan of ignoring local needs and concerns while jetting around the world to push a militaristic, right-wing foreign policy agenda. Dornan, on the other hand, attacked Robinson for allegedly accepting prostitutes and other favors from jailed Anaheim businessman W. Patrick Moriarty, who was convicted in a political corruption scandal.
In stark contrast to the Orange County battle, the outcome of the general election contest for Fiedler's 21st District seat had never been in doubt. The staunchly Republican district sprawls from the western San Fernando Valley across southern Ventura County and even includes far-off Santa Catalina Island.
Clawed Way to Top
Last June, Gallegly clawed his way to the top of a bruising GOP primary against Tony Hope, a longtime Washington lobbyist who is the son of comedian Bob Hope. Underscoring the inevitable, Gallegly this fall outspent his Democratic rival, Avalon City Councilman Gilbert R. Saldana, by about 5 to 1.
An unflinching backer of President Reagan, Gallegly, 42, will become the first national lawmaker from the the fast-growing eastern Ventura County region. Gallegly, a realtor, campaigned largely on his record as mayor of the city of 90,000. He pointed to Simi Valley's impressive record of economic growth and his success at restructuring its police force as evidence of his management skills.