HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. – It has been eight years since he was turned out of office by a young, liberal upstart and his comeback bid was soundly rejected by voters two years later. Now the firebrand conservative ex-congressman known as "B-1 Bob" Dornan (search) is asking voters for one more chance.
Only this time, Dornan, famous in the 1970s, '80s and '90s for his slash-and-burn tactics targeting liberals, is trying to unseat a fellow Republican whose record is equally conservative.
He all but retired from politics after losing back-to-back congressional campaigns to Rep. Loretta Sanchez (search), D-Santa Ana, in 1996 and 1998. But now he has decided to seek the Republican nomination for the congressional seat of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (search), R-Huntington Beach.
Rohrabacher, whose Orange County district is next to Sanchez's, differs little on the issues from Dornan. Both support a freeze on taxes, favor the war in Iraq and oppose President Bush's proposal to allow temporary work visas for undocumented immigrants.
The similarities have led some political analysts to view the election as nothing more than an effort to return to the spotlight by the 70-year-old Dornan, who earned his nickname for both his support of the military and his bombastic personality.
"This is King Lear raging on the heath," said John J. Pitney, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in Pomona. "Dornan's been out of the limelight for quite some time, and he wants it back."
Dornan, who scuffled with another Republican congressman on the House floor in 1985 when he called him a "draft-dodging wimp," said he would be tougher on terrorists than Rohrabacher, a better friend to Israel and a stauncher opponent of Islam.
"I would be the pre-eminent scholar on the dark side of Islam," he said recently, defining the run-up to Tuesday's primary election as "a one-issue campaign — terrorism."
A spokeswoman for the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations dismissed Dornan's remark as calculated to gain votes by playing on racial fears after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"Candidates are attempting to scapegoat an entire Muslim community to gain prominence," said Sabija Kahn. "Dornan is just an example of this kind of hate-filled rhetoric in our own back yard."
For his part, Dornan is hoping his strong support for Israel during the 18 years he was in Congress will help catapult him to victory, even in a region where Jews comprise only a small portion of the population and Hispanics are the fastest-growing minority.
Jews represent about 3 percent of Orange County's nearly 3 million residents, according to the Orange County Jewish Federation.
Dornan called Rohrabacher "anti-Israel" for commenting on a 2002 talk show that Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "were cut from the same cloth."
Rohrabacher called Dornan's criticism unfounded, noting his staff director on homeland security policy is a former Israeli military officer and his former foreign policy adviser once worked for Dornan.
"I'm for a Zionist state," he said. "But you have haters and irreconcilable people on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. I'm trying to find people who are willing to work on both sides of the conflict, who are looking for a compromise."
Dornan also criticized Rohrabacher for accepting money from Abdurahman M. Alamoudi, the founder of the American Muslim Council who was charged last year with trying to funnel Libyan money into the United States illegally. Federal prosecutors also alleged he was involved with groups that finance terrorism.
Rohrabacher said he and many other politicians received money from Alamoudi in the mid-1990s, before the allegations surfaced.
Rohrabacher, 56, an avid surfer who can wax at length on the spirituality of catching a wave, is known in Congress for his expertise on Afghanistan. He helped the Bush administration craft its plan against Afghanistan's former Taliban leadership after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Rohrabacher has the support of many top Republicans, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and he leads Dornan about 2-1 in fund-raising. As of Feb. 19, Dornan had about $182,000 cash on hand, most of it from a loan he made to himself. Rohrabacher had more than $365,000, most of it from outside contributions.
In other California congressional primary races:
— Conservative Republican state Sen. Rico Oller is running against moderate political newcomer Mary Ose in Sacramento's 3rd District. Ose is the older sister of incumbent Rep. Doug Ose, who's honoring a term-limits pledge and is not seeking re-election.
— In the Fresno-area 20th District, where Democratic Rep. Cal Dooley is stepping down, his former chief of staff, Lisa Quigley, faces off against former state Sen. Jim Costa.