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Dornan Turns Up the Volume

Politics: Ex-congressman touts his ideas and taunts opponents while filling in as host of Oliver North's radio program. He says he might pursue his own show if his appeal of election result fails.

March 17, 1997|GEBE MARTINEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — "Ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the main event. Let's get ready to rumble!"

That bravado introduction and its accompanying musical flourish blared from radios all over the country last week as listeners tuned in for what they thought would be their daily fix of talk show host Oliver North.

Instead, they were treated to the mischievous-sounding voice of a former legislator who boldly reminded them he is not down for the count.

"I'm in the air! I'm flying!" proclaimed former Orange County Rep. Robert K. Dornan.

Clearly, since he isn't back in Congress, there is nowhere else Dornan would rather be than on the radio.

And three hours a day for five days last week, Dornan substituted for North on the nationally syndicated radio program and did what he is best known for: talking.

The air time on the North show--and on an upcoming series of Michael Reagan radio shows--is being questioned by California Democrats, who plan to file a formal complaint today with the Federal Election Commission.

State Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres claims Dornan's guest hosting gigs are illegal corporate campaign contributions. Torres adds that the forums give Dornan free publicity to raise money for his ongoing effort to recapture the congressional seat he lost in November to Democrat Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove).

But Greg Anderson, the president of the Dallas-based Salem Broadcasting Network, which syndicates the North show, said that for now, Dornan is a "private citizen" and therefore free to be on the radio.

Thus unleashed, Dornan found plenty to talk about last week, especially since he's now outside the House Chamber, where gentlemanly rules apply.

His performance was a seemingly endless stream of scattered thoughts mixed with interviews of guests.

On day one, Dornan spent most of the time discussing himself.

In a format he dubbed a "national" news conference that drew no reporters, he detailed the status of his appeal to overturn the election of the "Palos Verdes princess," as he calls Sanchez, his Democratic rival.

The former Republican congressman also criticized "gutless" Democrats and Republicans for not aggressively taking on campaign finance reform.

By Tuesday, Dornan was doing an impersonation of President Clinton selling his autograph for campaign cash. He threw in an audio clip from the film "Jerry Maguire," where Cuba Gooding Jr.'s character is shouting to Tom Cruise, "Show me the money! Show me the money!"

On Wednesday, Dornan was hopscotching--from Bosnia, to a conversation he had in 1970 in the parking lot of the American Embassy in Paris, to a critique of Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect" show, to Hustler magazine founder Larry Flynt.

Past the halfway mark of his weeklong stint, Dornan's raspy voice took on a "Valley girl" accent. It was a sing-song imitation of Sanchez criticizing him: "Bob Dornan . . . why doesn't he just move on? Why doesn't he just leave me alone?"

He ended the week talking about President Clinton's knee injury and saying he never wanted Clinton to get hurt, just to be impeached.

"Without jogging is [Clinton] going to blow up to [a] butterball?" he wondered.

It was vintage Dornan.

And it rankled Dornan's Democratic rivals that he had access to free air time to pound on Sanchez while the election result is being appealed and when the two could face a rematch before the voters next year.

"It is amazing that they would be exploiting campaign loopholes in such an outrageous fashion," said Steve Jost, Sanchez's chief of staff. "It's a level of hubris and arrogance that even [House Speaker] Newt Gingrich can't touch."

But Dornan's fans think he's great.

Anderson, the radio network executive, credited Dornan with generating telephone calls from radio listeners. "He's very articulate, bombastic, but always entertaining."

Dornan said he could be a regular on radio were he not preoccupied with his appeal of the election result. "Every single radio entity, large and small, has approached me," he said.

Dornan hosted a television talk show in Los Angeles nearly 30 years ago and in recent years, he has filled in for other radio talk show hosts.

Dornan might want to start planning a return to broadcasting sooner rather than later, said Michael Harrison, the editor of Talkers Magazine, a trade publication.

The field of conservative radio hosts is already crowded, Harrison said.

"Bob Dornan could probably command a good salary [at first], but he would not maintain it unless he succeeded. And succeeding in this business is difficult for anyone," Harrison said.

So is politics. And Harrison has an opinion about that too.

"Dornan's probably better suited to being a talk show host than a member of Congress," he said.

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