California Elections : Bruising, Expensive Battle Expected in Dornan-Robinson House Race

Times Staff Writer

Incumbent GOP Rep. Robert K. Dornan and Democratic Assemblyman Richard Robinson, both of Garden Grove, on Wednesday came out of their respective primaries swinging, beginning what promises to be an expensive and bruising general election race for Dornan’s mostly Orange County 38th District seat.

The 38th District contest is seen by both political parties as the most competitive congressional race in the state. The 38th, which Dornan won from incumbent Democrat Jerry Patterson in 1984, has been the only California congressional district to change hands in the wake of reapportionment that made almost all California’s incumbents virtually unbeatable.

The combative Dornan looked heavenward as he heard of Robinson’s stronger-than-expected primary victory in the marginally Democratic district: “I’ve got Dickie Robinson (as an opponent). Thank you, God.”

Meanwhile, Robinson, a political veteran who is no stranger to political scrapes, pledged to impress upon voters that Dornan, one of the House’s most feisty conservatives, “spent more time going to and from Nicaragua than on the congested freeways of the district.” Robinson won the nomination by garnering a surprisingly strong 2-to-1 margin against Superior Court Judge David O. Carter.


Emotional Issues

Orange County Republican Chairman Thomas A. Fuentes suggested that the general election race, which could have each candidate spending more than $1 million, will focus on Robinson’s liberal record on such emotional issues as judicial appointments. The assemblyman, he said, was “the desired candidate (over political novice Carter) from our point of view.”

“There is certainly far more baggage which Richard Robinson carries that makes our job easier in the election of Bob Dornan,” he said.

However, the Democrats seem ready to gear up for an equally aggressive campaign.


“In that particular seat, you have to be combative, and I think we will be in 1986,” said Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Merced), chairman of the House Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Dornan said he hoped that the campaign would center on issues and added that he would urge Robinson to reject advice “to get low-down dirty and personal.”

“If he buys that plan, it will backfire all over Robinson” and rob him of an opportunity to “leave office with dignity,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tuesday’s primary appeared to decide races in two districts that will be sending new faces to Congress.


Simi Valley Mayor Elton Gallegly had a comfortable victory over Tony Hope, a former Washington lobbyist who is the son of entertainer Bob Hope, for the Republican nomination in the 21st District seat that Rep. Bobbi Fiedler (R-Northridge) gave up to run for the Senate. Gallegly’s nomination in the heavily Republican district’s GOP primary makes it nearly certain that he will prevail in November.

Handy Victory

With similarly lopsided Republican registration behind Assemblyman Ernie Konnyu of Saratoga, his handy victory in the 12th District’s Republican primary seems to assure his election. The Silicon Valley congressional seat was vacated by Rep. Ed Zschau (R-Los Altos), who became the Republican Senate nominee in Tuesday’s primary.

Coelho, the Democratic campaign chairman, said the national congressional committee is considering heavy investments in no more than three of the state’s 45 congressional races.


They are: the Dornan-Robinson battle, the race between Republican Assemblyman Wally Herger of Rio Oso and Democratic Shasta County Supervisor Stephen C. Swendiman to fill the seat left vacant by the retirement of Rep. Gene Chappie (R-Roseville) and an effort by Democrat John Hartnett to unseat Rep. Charles Pashayan Jr. (R-Fresno). In the latter two districts, however, the Democratic nominees face long odds, even if they do receive substantial national party support.

Republicans, for their part, say they will be spending heavily to help their 36th District nominee, San Bernardino real estate developer Robert Henley, unseat veteran Rep. George E. Brown Jr. (D-Colton), whose liberal voting record has made him a perpetual Republican target in an increasingly conservative area.

‘Full Funding’

“You definitely will see full funding go into that race,” said Edward A. Goeas III, campaign director for the National Republican Congressional Committee.


Goeas also said an aggressive GOP registration drive could give George Wolverton, a workers compensation lawyer from Tarzana who won the party’s 23rd District nomination, a chance of beating incumbent Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Los Angeles).

Times staff writer Lanie Jones contributed to this article.