Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic hasn't even announced his candidacy for Congress, but Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) isn't taking any chances.
Dornan, painting the race as a showdown between conservatives and the "Hollywood left," sent out 60,000 mailers over the weekend to past political contributors, asking for their financial help against the 43-year-old Kovic.
An ardent anti-war activist whose life is chronicled in the current film "Born on the Fourth of July," Kovic is now making appearances to explore the possibility of challenging Dornan for the conservative's 38th Congressional District seat in Orange County.
Soon after Kovic began hinting at a run earlier this month, Dornan countered with a short "telegram" mailer sent to about 25,000 supporters.
But the big hit came this weekend with a four-page campaign piece to most of Dornan's political supporters since 1986, the majority within Orange County, attacking Kovic and asking for contributions of at least $100.
The mailer shows a picture of Kovic purportedly burning a draft card during protests against the Vietnam War and depicts "Born on the Fourth of July" as a fictionalized and scandalous account of his wartime service.
"His stands are the antithesis of a county that named its airport after John Wayne," Dornan said in an interview Sunday. "This guy has attacked everything John Wayne stood for."
Kovic responded Sunday that he was "proud to be the antithesis of John Wayne." The actor and his war movies, Kovic said, "did a great disservice to my generation, to young men who were manipulated and incited to go to Vietnam. . . . Believing in the John Wayne myth got a lot of people killed and a lot of people wounded like myself.
"Whether it's John Wayne or Rambo, trying to make us think war is a glorious thing and that no one gets hurt or killed . . . is dangerous. And I think the John Wayne movies which glorified war when I was growing up in the '50s misrepresented what the war was really going to be like for us when we got to Vietnam."
Kovic added, "It's the false patriots who always attack the real heroes." He said he would continue to respond to "everything he (Dornan) brings up, right until his concession speech."
In campaign appearances in recent weeks, the Redondo Beach resident has said that he believes voters are tired of Dornan's reliance on stirring anti-Communist fears and that they will be lured by Kovic's own background as a person who has overcome adversity.
As depicted in "Born on the Fourth of July," Kovic has said he initially believed unflinchingly in the U.S. mission in Vietnam but underwent a dramatic reversal after seeing firsthand the brutality of the war and its aftermath.
A volunteer in the war, he was paralyzed from the chest down during a 1966 combat mission.
Dornan said he expects that if Kovic runs, he will be backed heavily by the entertainment industry and bolstered by the publicity of the Academy Awards.
"If he comes into the race and (rock star) Bruce Springsteen keeps his promise to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars at a concert, then I'm the underdog," Dornan said.
The incumbent said he still owes $40,000 from his 1988 campaign and has raised less than $10,000 in his reelection bid. He said he thinks he needs at least $1.5 million to beat Kovic. "But even if he doesn't run, the Democrats have never given me a free ride," he added.
Dornan said he is planning a follow-up mailer to political contributors within the next several weeks to attack Oliver Stone, who directed "Born on the Fourth of July," for his stated positions on such issues as Panama and the ethical roots of American society.
"We're going to wrap Oliver Stone around Kovic's neck because they've been best friends since '76," the congressman asserted.
Kovic Sunday called Stone "an American treasure. I have tremendous respect for Oliver Stone; he is respected throughout the world.
"Yes, he has been a friend of mine for years, and yes we will continue to tell the truth about this country so that what happens in war will never happen again."