Photos by Jack GouldWhen news came that Bob Dornan intends to run for the 46th Congressional District seat, incumbent Republican Dana Rohrabacher reacted with something like pity, saying his district preferred a "positive conservative spirit," and added that Dornan's brand of conservatism "comes from a more negative bygone era."
This seemed odd since Dornan's "bygone era" ended just seven years ago in 1996 and, from 1988 to 1996, coincided with the political period we all know as Pax Rohrabacher. As for that "positive conservative spirit," Rohrabacher may have meant the current climate in which conservatives are positive anyone who disagrees with George W. Bush is, as Bush himself once put it, "a major-league asshole."
Whatever he meant, Rohrabacher was clearly suggesting there's a clear choice between the two men. Others will tell you different—that the two are cut from the same mean-spirited cloth, a cloth that looks suspiciously like a hood with eyeholes or a cloth on which someone has cross-stitched "Every lesbian spear chucker is hoping I get defeated" (Dornan) or "[Tom] McClintock is a nerd" (Rohrabacher).
I headed down to the heart of the 46th, the Huntington Beach Pier, to find out how much voters there know about their choices and whether they see any difference in style, substance or anything else beginning with an S.
QUESTION 1. Regarding the candidates' background and qualifications,which of them claims to be an ace fighter pilot and which claims to be the "surfing Congressman?"
Of all the questions I asked, this one received the most correct responses: a whopping two out of five people—number-crunchers in the OC Weekly DataLab tell me that's 40 percent—knew that Rohrabacher bills himself as the "surfing Congressman." They knew, they said, because every year they get taxpayer-funded mail from the House of Representatives reminding them of this fact, usually accompanied by a photo of Rohrabacher astride a surfboard. Mark Delhome of Huntington Beach answered correctly, and said he heard there were "guys underneath the water holding the board. If you look at the pictures, there's no wave."
No one knew anything about Dornan's claim that he was a top-notch fighter pilot. "I remember they called him Bomber [B-1, actually] Bob, but I didn't know he flew," said one woman who didn't give her name. Yes, Dornan had a Toonces-esque career as an aviator: he could fly a plane, just not very well. In little more than a year of active-duty as well as a reserve stint Dornan crashed three jets and one helicopter, putting him, according to Newsweek, just one wreck shy of the dubious distinction of "Black Ace."
QUESTION 2. Family values are big with Republicans. Identify which candidate's wife did the following pleaded guilty to election fraud charges and which, in a court filing, said her husband called her "vile and obscene names," beat her, dragged her through the house by her hair, and dumped a gallon of milk on her head.
Interestingly enough, this question got almost no direct responses. After hearing the bit about the milk, most respondents just wanted to know who did that. It was Dornan's wife Sallie who made the charges. Once Bob was elected to Congress in 1976, the couple explained that Sallie had simply imagined the incidents; later explanations included Sallie's temporary reliance on prescription drugs. Those are some powerful drugs: Los Angeles Superior Court files of Sallie's testimony assert that Bob choked, punched, kicked and harassed her from 1960 to 1976.
Rohrabacher's wife, Rhonda, expecting triplets in April, is the ex-con.
QUESTION 3. Religion is big with Republicans. Which candidate once explained that he had bounced a check at the House of Representatives Bank because he needed the money to build a backyard grotto for the Virgin Mary, and which candidate, while attending a prayer service, denounced the Chinese as "racial superiorists."
The most common response: "What's a grotto?" My pat response was a "it's a religious thing," which kinda ended the question-and-answer thing right there. Still, Ronald Erwin of Westminster did figure out that Dornan was Mr. Grotto by using deductive reasoning. "Rohrabacher," he said, "sounds pretty Jewish."
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QUESTION 4. The media plays a huge role in who gets elected. Identify the candidate behind each of the following statements regarding OC Weekly: "Homosexual paper." "Scabrous, scandalous, calumny-spreading homosexual tool." "That paper is Satan's instrument." "An evil paper spreading infected bodily fluids all over this county."
Many tried but none could correctly match who said what, which was to be expected because this was a trick question. All of these were Bob Dornan, and Dornan unloaded each in an impressive span of a single minute on a political roundtable show.
QUESTION 5: Whoever wins the primary will face a Democrat in the general election. If that Democrat is smart, and that's a big if, he or she will no doubt use the environment and reproductive rights against the Republican candidate. Which candidate said that men in the pro-choice movement "are either men trapped in women's bodies" or "are like camp followers looking for easy sex," and which candidate said funding global warming research amounted to "throwing money down a rat hole."
Because of my lousy skills as a pollster, nobody was really sure what the hell I was asking. In any case, Rohrabacher is Mr. Rathole, while Dornan, described three decades ago as a handsome boy actor, said the thing about men trapped in women's bodies.