WASHINGTON – While Democrats accuse Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of spending too much time at cocktail parties, the seven-term congressman, known for enjoying a good party, would argue he has spent his time a little more constructively.
"I have been, for the last five years, the congressional expert on Afghanistan. I have been warning everybody of the Taliban, that we were headed for trouble, and now we are in trouble."
In fact on Sept. 11, Rohrabacher, R-Calif., had a 2:30 p.m. meeting scheduled at the National Security Council, in which he said he was going to warn officials that the assassination of Northern Alliance Commander Ahmad Shah Massoud two days earlier was a dark harbinger for anti-American terror threats to come.
"I knew Massoud quite well. I was very distraught when I had heard that he had been assassinated, but I got myself under control. I sat down and figured that there was some meaning in this."
But Rohrabacher never got the chance. Instead, the surfer-turned congressman-turned Northern Alliance advocate prepared "to have major input into making right what happened to us. The contacts I developed over the years played a major role."
Rohrabacher has traveled to Afghanistan a number of times over the last decade and lobbied hard in defense of the Northern Alliance, in which Massoud had been the bond in a tenuous coalition of ethnic tribal leaders that opposed the Taliban regime.
With his experiences, Rohrabacher lends a rare insight into Afghanistan, site of the U.S.-led war on terrorism triggered by the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
And he plans to be on the forefront for the next two years.
That's because he is favored 4-1 in the new 46th District, created by the Democratic-controlled Legislature during the 2001 redistricting process.
The 46th includes 75 percent of his old 45th District, including the Orange County towns of Huntington Beach, where the Beach Boys went to high school, Newport Beach, Stanton, and Westminster, as well as new Republican-leaning areas of Long Beach and Palos Verdes.
In fact, say Republican officials, Rohrbacher's survival has hardly been a concern for the party.
"He's always been fairly safe," said Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee. "Mr. Rohrabacher has been [a] great congressman with strong election numbers. Redistricting has only helped him."
But Democrats are ready for a fight, and have pitted Gerrie Schipske against him. Schipske lost to retiring California Rep. Steve Horn, R-38th, by one percentage point in 2000.
"Rohrabacher has fallen out of touch with voters in his district and has been spending too much time at Washington cocktail parties," said Bob Mulholland, campaign advisor for the Democratic Party of California, warning, "Gerrie Schipske is an experienced candidate and almost won her last campaign for Congress."
Schipske is also no stranger to Washington. A former legislative assistant on Capitol Hill, the openly gay nurse practitioner, former college board president and attorney, was appointed in 1998 to serve on Attorney General Janet Reno's National Advisory Council on Violence Against Women.
And she won't let her sexuality become an issue in the campaign. Though her campaign could not be reached for comment, Schipske told the gay newspaper The Advocate during her 2000 campaign: "People are so busy and concerned with their own lives. They judge you on what you have done with your life, not what your sexual orientation is."
Rohrabacher is banking on just that. He said his constituents are concerned about the security of the country and he believes his own expertise in immigration and international issues can only help to serve them.
"Right now the issue for everybody is this war on terrorism and our country's authority and power to do what's right in the world," he said.