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Sanchez, Dornan Trade Barbs but Not Face to Face

Election: Incumbent has yet to debate his challenger in race that helps decide control of Congress. Both are spending a combined total of $1 million on ads.


WESTMINSTER — In a campaign filled with the unusual, it was another bizarre moment.

Democrat challenger Loretta Sanchez, a Rotarian, was about to give a lunch talk Thursday to the Westminster Rotary Club, when her opponent, Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) walked in and sat down.

It looked like Dornan, after skipping at least five debates in the last month, had finally decided to confront the upstart, who is mounting a well-funded challenge to the nine-term incumbent in this predominantly Latino and Democratic district.

But then it didn't happen. Instead of the two squaring off, Dornan ordered lunch.

One of the strangest races in this political year is also one of the most important and could determine which party controls Congress for the next two years.

The Dornan-Sanchez race has included accusations of campaign-sign stealing, outrageous political mailers and even a citizen's arrest of Sanchez's husband by Dornan's son, Mark, for allegedly tearing down Dornan campaign signs.

With two dozen Rotarians and their guests wondering what would happen next, Sanchez, 36, gave a 15-minute version of her usual stump talk. It included attacks on Dornan's opposition to the Brady Bill gun control measure and the Clinton administration's effort to put 100,000 cops on the street.

Without mentioning Dornan's name, she closed, taking a shot at him.

"We only get one representative in Congress and people judge us by who we send," she told the gathering. "We should show we are not afraid of women in the work force or . . . of minorities. People have their eyes on this district and are looking to see if good or evil will prevail."

After Sanchez left, Dornan, 63, was asked to the podium.

He talked about the need to cut taxes, his support for local police and his opposition to women in combat.

He also spoke about his opposition to Proposition 209, saying affirmative action often means that "if you are a white male you are the scum of the Earth" and for "Asian students with a natural aptitude for math" it means getting "frozen out of Berkeley."

The two opponents neither shook hands nor said a word to each other.

With both sides spending a combined total of $1 million to take shots at each other through their advertisements, it is curious that Sanchez and Dornan don't talk about the issues face to face.

Sanchez said she would gladly meet Dornan, but he does not want to discuss things that matter to the constituency in central Orange County. "He doesn't because he is wrong on the issues," said Sanchez, a financial analyst who stopped working last year to run full time for Congress.

Dornan has said he does not debate her because of her association with a convicted felon, Howard Kieffer. "It is beneath the dignity of the office to share a platform," he said.

Sanchez in 1995 had a business relationship with Kieffer, a one-time member of the Orange County Democratic Central Committee, who went to prison for federal tax fraud in 1989 and has previous convictions for grand theft and forgery. She also ran her primary campaign this spring from an office she rented from Kieffer, who contributed $1,000 to her campaign.

Pamela Ezell, an assistant professor at Chapman University, tried to produce a televised debate between the candidates. She said Dornan and other elected Republicans refused to appear with Sanchez.

"They would have no part of it," Ezell said. "They did not want to give her a platform." However, when Sanchez, a Chapman alumnus, visited a forum on the campus, Mark Dornan, the congressman's 37-year-old son, was there to ask her questions.

If Republican officials have been shunning Sanchez, that is not the case with her party. President Clinton appeared with Sanchez during a recent rally in Santa Ana, and the White House and the Democratic Party have been pouring money and resources into the effort to oust Dornan, the leading Clinton basher in Congress.

The Clinton administration's two highest-ranking Latino officials, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros and Transportation Secretary Federico Pena, will be in town Monday, said the Sanchez campaign, speaking to a rally at Santa Ana's Rancho Santiago College and perhaps walking precincts.

Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole appeared at a rally in Anaheim last week with Dornan, who introduced him. "We need to reelect Bob Dornan, who has done a great job for America," Dole said as he held Dornan's hand before a crowd of thousands.

Today, GOP vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp will visit Dornan headquarters in Garden Grove about noon after attending a church service in Santa Ana, the Dornan campaign said.

The Republican Party has spent heavily on Dornan and helped create some of his mailers. He is also getting cash in small amounts from thousands of conservatives around the country who answer his nationwide direct-mail solicitations.

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