Republicans nationwide must have wept with joy on Dec. 1 when bitter, defeated ex-Congressman Bob Dornan—whose puerile antics have embarrassed the GOP for decades—announced he would not be a candidate for the first time since Richard Nixon's first term as president. Trounced by Democrat Loretta Sanchez in the 1998 election, Dornan had noisily contemplated a political comeback in the coastal South Orange County/ North San Diego County district being vacated by retiring Representative Ron Packard. Press accounts in The Orange County Register and the Orange County edition of the Los Angeles Times essentially claimed Dornan—who poses fearless even though he chose drama school over Korean War combat duty—bowed out of the race primarily to focus on his bombastic nationwide talk-radio show.
However, the Virginia resident who once dreamed of occupying the White House may have declined to run for fear of suffering a third consecutive campaign defeat. Remarkably, no mainstream reporter bothered to mention that Dornan's own former colleagues had sabotaged him. Just weeks earlier, California Republican Congressmen Chris Cox, Dana Rohrabacher, Ed Royce and David Dreier reportedly recruited wealthy conservative San Diego businessman Darrell Issa as the Republican candidate to torpedo any Dornan comeback. Before Dornan dropped out, Issa had already produced a television advertisement touting his close connection to the district (Dornan has none) and sent targeted campaign mail to local Republicans.
Instead of acknowledging reality, Dornan was given a sugarcoated goodbye, particularly by the Times OC. Without attribution or any supporting evidence such as a poll, reporter Jean Pasco claimed in her lead that "many believed [Dornan] could have won." Who these "many" are remains unclear, but they do not include the 11 people who contemplated running against Dornan. Pasco also audaciously chose a Times columnist—outspoken Dornan loyalist Ken Khachigian—as the voice to sum up Dornan's ugly, unproductive 18 years in Congress.
"He's had a wonderful career," an apparently straight-faced Khachigian said of the 66-year-old man who counted among his major legislative accomplishments the creation of a congressional "Disneyland Day" and who was once officially banned from the floor of the House by fellow Republicans for screaming profanities. Dornan also earned a reputation in Washington, D.C., for bigotry and violence. Over the years, he was accused of making numerous physical threats against other representatives—including Republicans who had tired of his inexhaustible ego and penchant for melodrama.
Khachigian, a former Nixon White House speechwriter and rabid proponent of right-wing causes, also had this to say about a man who carried out a desperate, 18-month-long campaign to have the courts overturn his 1996 loss to Sanchez and refused to relinquish his special congressional license plates: "It's a rare politician who knows when to pack it in."
But Orange County's political scene isn't yet Dornan-free. Mark Dornan—Bob's 40-year-old son, who is known for obnoxiously shouting, "You da man, dad!" at campaign rallies—says he will carry on his father's legacy and run for Packard's seat. Poppy, as the elder Dornan is called by family members, says he is passing "the torch to a new generation." (No flame jokes, but a disclosure: after unfavorable articles about Bob Dornan were published in the Weekly, Mark publicly called this reporter the "devil.")
The longtime West Los Angeles resident is a self-described property-management consultant and wannabe grade-school teacher. He served as press spokesman for his father's humiliating 1996 presidential campaign and received $5,000 per month as honorary campaign manager for Dornan for Congress in 1998. Sometime before the campaign, Mark claims, he will marry and move into a San Juan Capistrano rental.
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Press accounts reported that Mark and his father are "cut from the same cloth." But while the two share red hair, raspy voices, peasant-farmer politics and a passion for steroidal rhetoric, Mark could best be summed up as a cross between Bob Dornan and naughty-boy Lefty comedian George Carlin. He descriptively told one paper that his "head is spinning" in anticipation of the upcoming campaign.
While his dad fanatically carries around hand-written notes itemizing his own importance, Mark religiously totes a video camera. He is known to cuss, chain-smoke, wear well-worn cloths, tell off-color jokes, and shy away from verbally bashing gays and lesbians—having once said that he has a hipper perspective on homosexuality than his father.
"People might play 'sins of the father' some, but if they do, it'll only hurt them," Mark Dornan told Pasco. "I start with a clean slate."
That clean slate probably won't last long. The father—who still calls himself "powerful"—promises he will campaign for his son.