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California and the West

Dornan's Battle Cry: 'I'm Coming Back'

Politics: Ex-congressman expects House panel to overturn election he lost. But even if a special election is called, GOP might prefer that someone else run for the seat.

September 22, 1997|JODI WILGOREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — B-1 Bob is still running. Hard.

Here he is on the porch of his suburban Virginia home, working with son Mark on campaign brochures. There he goes, flying coach around the country to call attention to alleged voter fraud, his latest cause celebre--at a Christian Coalition dinner in New York City, before that a conservative forum's fund-raising breakfast in Cincinnati, next month in the vaunted halls of Harvard Law School.

Now he's back on Capitol Hill, holding court last Wednesday at a corner table in the members-only dining room over scrambled eggs, bacon and rye toast.

"We miss you," a Republican staffer calls across the restaurant to Robert K. Dornan, who had R-Garden Grove after his name back when he held political office.

"Thank you, it's mutual," the fiery redhead chortles.

"I'm coming back," he adds quickly. "Second session."

More than 10 months after Dornan's defeat at the hands of Democrat Loretta Sanchez in Orange County's 46th Congressional District, he still hasn't gotten a new job. That's because he's counting on getting his old one back.

And soon. He fully expects the House Oversight Committee to overturn Sanchez's 984-vote victory on the grounds that noncitizens voted illegally. So he's gearing up for a special election in December. Only it hasn't been scheduled, and whether one will remains an open question.

The committee, which has been probing the election since December, has a meeting scheduled for Wednesday. Some on the Hill expect an announcement that the GOP-controlled panel has identified enough illegal voters to invalidate Sanchez's victory, although staff members insist they are still sorting through data.

Democrats on the panel contend that the databases from the Immigration and Naturalization Service being compared with Orange County's voter rolls are too sloppy to be reliable. "There's absolutely, positively--in my heart and in my head--no way in a million years that they can use INS data to make their case," one aide said. "There's no way they have an ironclad case. They can't, using the data we have."

Regardless of the committee's findings, any special election would require the full House's approval. And as recent events made clear, Dornan may not be able to count on help from his former GOP colleagues.

Responding to insults Dornan had directed at a Democratic lawmaker, the House on Thursday took the unprecedented step of banning him from the chamber until the election investigation is settled. Some insiders say the motion's overwhelming passage--111 of Dornan's fellow Republicans joined with Democrats in supporting it--bodes badly for his chances if the question of overturning the election ever makes it to the full House.

*

And on the political front, the news gets worse for Dornan: High-ranking Republican sources say a party poll conducted earlier this month shows Sanchez would beat Dornan in a special election but is vulnerable to other GOP candidates. The poll also showed that more people in the urban district spanning parts of Santa Ana, Anaheim and Garden Grove think negatively about Dornan than think positively, the sources said.

With that in mind, some Republican leaders on Capitol Hill and in California are trying to convince the conservative Dornan that should a special election be set, he should step aside in favor of a more moderate and perhaps female or Latino candidate who could better address the backlash that Republicans would face for throwing Sanchez out of office.

Some are even suggesting that the oversight committee should let the election stand, simply to thwart a special election that these GOP leaders presume would allow Sanchez to shore up her position by beating Dornan.

"Bob's own constituents don't want him," one Republican lawmaker said. "I run into people all the time who say, 'Gee, it looks like there's a lot of fraud in that election, I hope there's not enough so we get Bob Dornan back.'

"The story of Bob Dornan is over," he added. ". . . It's just not realistic to talk about him having a future in elective office."

Don't tell it to Dornan. Or to his wife, Sally, who said Friday she will quit the Republican Party because of the bipartisan ouster of her husband. But she's still his campaign manager.

"I'm no longer a Republican," Sally Dornan said. "I'm absolutely sick to my stomach watching friends not fighting [for her husband]. When the dust settles, there's going to be a lot of really sorry people."

For now, Dornan is a man without portfolio. He is on the road, on the airwaves, on TV--anywhere he can go to bad-mouth Sanchez, indict California's voter-registration procedures and pump up his accomplishments.

"He definitely is interesting to the Harvard community right now. It's an interesting issue, an interesting allegation he's making," said Andrew LeBlanc, a third-year law student who invited Dornan to the Cambridge campus. "He would, obviously, have some time on his hands as well, which helps."

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