Photo by Johan VogelWithout question, "Dornan" is the most provocative name in Orange County politics. First, there is ex-Congressman Robert K. "Bob" Dornan—a self-styled "fighter with a heart." In 12 years of representing the county's 46th Congressional District in Washington, D.C., Bob gleefully antagonized women, Democrats, Jews, war heroes, journalists, feminists, gays and "country-club Republicans." The House floor became a vaudeville stage for the onetime B-movie actor. There he was known to rant and slander and —when upbeat—sing and recite bad poetry. He also found time to start several fistfights and is the only member in modern times to have his speaking privileges temporarily revoked by his own party for uttering vulgarities on the House floor.
There is also Bob's wife, Sallie. While her husband contemplated a 1994 U.S. Senate run, she "blamed" herself, alcohol and drugs for filing five separate divorce cases (all loaded with allegations that Bob abused her violently) from 1960 to 1976. In addition to her loyalty, Sallie will also be remembered for screaming "Shut up, fag" at a 1988 Orange County political rally.
Now comes 40-year-old son Mark. When his dad decided in 1999 not to run for the South Orange County and North San Diego County congressional seat being vacated by the retiring Ron Packard, Mark got married, moved to San Juan Capistrano from Los Angeles and announced his candidacy. Not surprisingly, the younger Dornan's campaign theme is identical to his father's: "Faith, Family, Freedom." Mark—who recently received a teaching credential—calls himself "a conservative leader" with "vision, integrity and experience." His literature includes a recitation of the Ten Commandments.
On Feb. 21, Mark and nine of his Republican primary opponents in the 48th District race gathered to debate at Mission Viejo's Saddleback Church. Beneath an oversized Christian-hip billboard that read, "Hangtime with God," the younger Dornan enthusiastically slammed the proposed El Toro International Airport, toll roads, Bill Clinton, communist China, immorality, the National Endowment of the Arts and the Department of Education. You could have closed your eyes, listened to that familiar raspy voice, and almost believed that Bob Dornan had taken the stage.
Speaking of comparisons to his dad after the debate, Mark acknowledged that the "apple doesn't fall far from the tree." They share physical characteristics, animated speaking styles and hardcore right-wing ideology. But Mark doesn't make the incomprehensible leaps in logic—from condoms to Cortez to Vietnam to inflation in one sentence—that marked his father's speeches. Nor does he exhibit the anger or emotional insecurity that scarred his father's politics. He also says he doesn't share Bob's infamous public animus toward gays and lesbians. He does, however, wholeheartedly support the March 7 anti-gay Proposition 22.
Conventional wisdom says the two GOP front-runners are San Diego car-alarm millionaire Darrell Issa and term-limited Orange County state Senator Bill Morrow. Some Republican observers see Dornan, who is relying on his father's contributor base, running a distant third.
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Anyone unfamiliar with the inside of the Fairview mental hospital might have been frightened—or amused—by many of the political arguments offered by all of the Republican candidates at the debate. James Luke and William Griffith looked wild-eyed. You could have gotten splinters from the wooden Kim DeBow and Kevin Mahan. Joe Snyder and Don Udall—both unquestionably dignified men—looked as if a job in Congress would be beneath them. And Issa and Morrow smacked of politics-as-usual.
Dornan—we hate to admit this—was energetic, articulate, informed and even witty.
Taking a deep breath as the debate ended, Dornan the younger said, on the issues, "there's not a dime's worth of difference between any of us. You need a voice."
Mark Dornan's voice is his blessing; it offers him nearly instant name recognition among conservative voters. But that voice is also his curse, linking him however unfairly to his father's creepy legacy.