Photo by Johan VogelSeemingly oblivious to the political massacre taking place, a smiling Dan Quayle stood before his fellow Republicans on election night at the Sutton Place Hotel in Newport Beach and said, "We have just begun to fight."
It was, of course, a little late to begin fighting. The polls had been closed for 90 minutes and, in a more working-class part of Orange County, Democrats like Loretta Sanchez had just begun to party.
As the former vice president rambled inanely, a tall middle-aged white guy wearing a fashionable double-breasted suit drank from his Heineken, turned to me, took another gulp, looked with disgust at Quayle, and said, "This really sucks." Nearby, normally loquacious Laguna Niguel City Councilman Eddie Rose-decked out in a dark-blue zoot suit with sparkling white shoes-stood sullen, hands crammed into his pants pockets. A preppy twentysomething couple wearing pro-Lungren buttons hugged one another and cried softly as if someone had died.
Someone had. From Klamath to Calexico, California Republicans had suffered one of their worst defeats this century. Democrats took the state's three top offices-governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general-and made their biggest gains locally in decades.
Two middle-aged white guys (diversity alert: one drank red wine, the other white) summed it up nicely: "Oh, God! What happened?" the red wine drinker repeated over and over. The white-wine drinker shook his head slowly and kept answering: "I don't know. I don't know."
The party's band seemed to know what was happening. They cruelly broke into a rendition of "Play that Funky Music White Boy" as the incredibly Caucasian crowd whined that voters in Los Angeles (God forbid!) and San Francisco (double God forbid!!) were ruining California. Secretary of State Bill Jones-one of the more devious politicians alive-tried a bit of, forgive me, black magic to lift everyone's spirits. As if it was the key word in a witch's spell, Jones barked from the podium, "Reagan, Reagan, Reagan." All I could think of was Reagan, the head-swirling, possessed girl in The Exorcist.
You couldn't escape the sense of agony anywhere in the hotel. One irate Republican strategist had locked himself in a bathroom stall and-while he took a noxious dump-screamed obscenities about Senator Barbara Boxer at some poor soul on the other end of a cell phone connection. Angry Matt Fong supporters released tension by surrounding and verbally assaulting a startled black TV-news cameraman from Channel 9. Outside, a disappointed young black Republican on a trip from Washington, D.C., to recruit minorities into the GOP deeply inhaled his cigarette and said of the crowd, "They just don't get it." Religious Right crusader and Buena Park Southern Baptist pastor Wiley Drake inexplicably complained that "our party needs to get candidates who don't drink." Back inside, dozens of corporate lobbyists who poured millions of dollars into Republican campaign coffers slouched on lobby sofas, drinking hard liquor.
That was before 9:30. The night would get worse, much worse. Enter Robert Kenneth Owen Dornan.
The wrong thing to give a drug addict is another dose. The wrong thing to give a failed actor like Dornan is applause. At 11:13 p.m., the bitter, defeated ex-congressman hobbled onto the hotel's stage amid generous applause. He disingenuously promised that his concession speech would take only "six or seven minutes."
At this point, it was clear that Dornan had lost again-this time crushed by Sanchez and an insurmountable 17 percent lead. The Harlem, New York, native is nothing, however, if not a pathetic one-man vaudeville act. At the podium, he posed. He smiled. He quoted Yeats. The man who avoided combat duty and who was once jailed for violent spousal abuse peppered his incoherent remarks with references to "character," D-Day, citizen arrests, "The Beast," talk radio, Martin Luther King, Jr., strong women, Newt Gingrich, sexual predators, and the "Antichrist." Despite all the talk, Dornan couldn't summon the maturity to concede the race to Sanchez. In fact, the man who invented voter-fraud allegations against innocent Latinos to explain his 1996 loss said he would "never" concede.
A guy standing behind me in the audience had tired of Dornan. "God, this guy really bugs me," he said. "When is this guy going to finally shut up?"
Not any time soon. About 15 minutes into his "six or seven minute" speech, the blotchy-faced Dornan paused for effect. He firmly gripped the podium with both hands. His blue eyes darted from side to side, soaking in the attention. "I'm going to be Bob Dornan unfettered tonight-a man of truth," Dornan said. "A fog of evil has rolled across our country." He then bitterly noted that he had "busted" his "chops" for an ungrateful Latino community. But there was more blame to go around. Why did Dornan believe he lost? Because of Republican Party interference, "we didn't have time to get our message out," said the man who spent 18 years as a congressman.
Twenty-five minutes into his speech (and with GOP chiefs Tom Fuentes and Mike Schroeder angrily trying to get Dornan offstage so that Fong could speak before midnight), Dornan resorted to his forte: character assassination. "We have a serial adulterer representing the 46th [Congressional District]. Did you hear that in the press?" he shouted before walking away from the podium and toward an offstage Reverend Lou Sheldon of the Anaheim-based Traditional Values Coalition. Kate, one of Dornan's scary daughters, then walked to the edge of the stage, glared at the TV cameras in the back of the ballroom and yelled: "It's not over, Loretta. We're coming after you-bad. Do you hear me?"
The Dornan Family Theater wasn't over. On the other side of the stage, Kate found, of all people to heckle, a Fong supporter. Soon, people were wrestling on the floor. Blood poured. A member of the Dornan clan was hauled off in handcuffs. No arrests were made. But just as tempers were calming, a disheveled 42-year-old Bob Dornan Jr. showed up, made a derogatory remark about Fong, asked bystanders "to show some class" and then challenged a few fellow Republicans to fistfights. Bob Jr. later described the encounter this way: "I told them, 'Man, you aren't nothing but low-class assholes, so shut up.'"
Next on Team Dornan's assault list was fellow Republican Dana Rohrabacher. "My dad gave you your seat," Bob Jr. told the six-term Huntington Beach congressman. "You and [Congressman Chris] Cox owe everything to my dad. Both of you are gone, buddy. We're going to see you in two years. My brother [Mark] is going to beat you, and even though I'm not educated, I'm going to beat Cox."
Rohrabacher tried to calm him down.
"No. No. You listen to me," Bob Jr. said. "I'm a real man. My dad's a real man. Don't fuck with me. My dad lost because you and Cox didn't support him."
"Come on, that's not true," said Rohrabacher.
"Don't patronize me. My dad doesn't play golf, and he doesn't go to the country-club parties, and that's why you and Cox put a knife in his back. By the way, why did Cox send O.J. [Simpson] letters when he was in prison, huh? My dad's not going to go away. Politics is a contact sport, and we're going to show you that, Dana."
Later, Rohrabacher demonstrated all-too-well that he understands politics. He told me the encounter was "bizarre." And he distanced himself from Dornan. "I am pro-life, but I don't believe in pushing into people's private lives like Bob. You know, people in my district don't like negative politics," he said. "How ironic that a few years back, Dornan was trying to move me out of my seat. The real reason for that was that he wanted to get [Dornan's until-recently closeted gay advisor and Southern California Edison lobbyist] Brian Bennett to take over the 46th. Now, wouldn't that have been weird? Bob Dornan giving his seat to a homosexual. Imagine that."
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While I was busy with Rohrabacher, my OC Weekly colleague Nick Schou approached the elder Dornan. "Are you a homosexual?" the ex-congressman asked Schou before agreeing to talk. Schou asked if Rohrabacher-who handily won his reelection bid-was to blame for Dornan's stunning loss. "He gave me a punk $1,000 contribution at the end of my campaign. And that's it. No further comment," Dornan said.
A few minutes later, Schou approached Dornan again. "OC Weekly reporter-gotta go," he said. As Dornan fled with his security detail through an exit, Schou asked, "How does it feel to lose twice in a row to a Latina?"
Dornan looked back. Gone was the fiery entertainer who likes to call himself a "hero." He said pitifully, "I'm not answering any more questions for OC Weekly."
That's okay. We know the answers.