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O.C. Rematch for Congress Is Most Costly

October 29, 1998|ESTHER SCHRADER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GARDEN GROVE — With Robert K. Dornan amassing more campaign money than ever before, the rematch between the former Orange County congressman and Rep. Loretta Sanchez has shaped up as the most expensive congressional race in the country this year and the second costliest in history, an analysis for The Times shows.

Sanchez, a Garden Grove Democrat, has raised $3 million--more than any other House incumbent except Speaker Newt Gingrich and Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt. Never has a freshman legislator raised near that amount.

Her Republican foe has raised even more--$3.4 million--mostly through nationwide mailers and ads in Washington newspapers. That is more than any other challenger for a House seat this year, and $1.4 million more than Dornan has garnered in any of his nine previous campaigns.

Although Dornan has spent two-thirds of his money simply to raise more funds, both candidates are hitting the airwaves and mailboxes in the final days before Tuesday's election with advertising boosting themselves and tearing each other down.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday October 31, 1998 Home Edition Part A Page 3 Metro Desk 2 inches; 55 words Type of Material: Correction
Sanchez-Dornan race--A story in Thursday's Times about the campaign money raised by Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) and challenger Robert K. Dornan reported incorrect figures for the total amount Dornan raised and the percentage of individual contributions in Sanchez's campaign. Dornan raised nearly $3.3 million, and Sanchez received 78% of her money from individual donors.

The big-money campaign, bolstered on both sides by contributions mostly from people motivated by ideology, is a measure of the lightning-rod nature of the rematch between Sanchez and Dornan. Like no other contest this year, it brings into sharp focus the split between conservatives and liberals on such national issues as abortion, education reform, defense spending and the role of organized labor.

The battle is also deeply personal, stirred mainly by Dornan's 14-month battle to overturn the 1996 election. Sanchez, then a political newcomer, defeated Dornan by a narrow margin.

This year's fight in the 46th Congressional District also is seen as a referendum on the emerging power of the Latino vote and the changing demographics in one of the country's most conservative counties.

"Just like metal filings are attracted to a magnet, ideological money from all over the country is attracted to this race," said Larry Makinson, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington nonprofit research group.

The heat in the campaign, which Dornan has cast as revenge for the seat he says was taken from him, has turned fund-raising norms for a local congressional campaign upside down.

Most congressional races are fought with less than a third of the money Sanchez and Dornan have raised.

Although most Republicans are backed strongly by business interests, it is Sanchez who has far more business support in this race. Most of Dornan's money trickles in from households around the nation in increments of $50 to $100.

"There is nothing typical about this race," said Dwight Morris of the Virginia-based Campaign Study Group, which analyzed the data for The Times. The analysis covers financial reports filed by the candidates through Oct. 14. "I suppose you could come up with two more ideological opposites, but it's hard to imagine. And that is affecting the way money has come into these campaigns."

Only once before has more money been raised in a congressional race, in 1996, when Gingrich and challenger Michael Coles, the millionaire owner of the Great American Cookie Co., raised $8.9 million between them.

Dornan has raised most of his money from retirees, through a national direct mail campaign targeted at a conservative support base he has built over the years. About 68% of his campaign funds came from outside California. And $2.5 million of his money, or 74%, was from donors who gave less than $200 each.

But Dornan did not shun donations from political action committees, as he sometimes has in the past. Conservative ideological groups, including Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, the Republican National Coalition for Life and the Campaign for Working Families, have added a total of $35,300 to Dornan's coffers.

"Bob Dornan has a proven pro-family, pro-life voting record," said Sheila Maloney, executive director of the Eagle Forum, which has donated $10,000 since January 1997--more than any other group or person. "This is a very symbolic vote in a lot of ways. It's between someone who is 100% about what we believe in, and someone who is not."

The National Republican Congressional Committee donated $4,500 to Dornan and has spent $67,000 of its own money on issue ads and get-out-the-vote efforts designed to help the former congressman's campaign. In the primary, Republican groups passed Dornan by, giving instead to another candidate in the race.

"That was then. This is now," committee spokesman Todd Harris said. "We're doing quite a bit. This is a key congressional seat for us."

However, Dornan's success in raising money has left him with little to spend. As of Oct. 14, he had just over $200,000 left in his campaign coffers, depleted mainly by the costs of managing the costly direct mail campaign to raise the money in the first place. His fund-raising costs totaled $2.3 million.

Sanchez had more than four times as much in her campaign in mid-October. She reported more than $900,000 left to spend.

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