Orange County Democrats don't really think they can outslug Bob Dornan, do they?
Dazzle him with footwork? Maybe.
Tire him out with marathon campaigning? Perhaps.
But stand toe-to-toe and exchange body punches with the master blaster?
Strange as it sounds, that's the Democrats' plan this year for unseating the eight-term Republican congressman. One of the strategists of the "BeatBob" campaign says he can't wait.
"One of the things we want to do with BeatBob is to engage Dornan," says Mike Kaspar, an Irvine public relations executive heading up the campaign on behalf of the Orange County Democratic Party.
To "engage" someone in politics is a nice way of saying the gloves are coming off.
Why Dornan, I asked. "First of all, I find his politics repugnant, as do, I'm sure, 99% of the Democrats in this county," Kaspar says. "So that's first and foremost. But the political reality is that Dornan can be beaten."
Kaspar notes that Dornan got just a pinch over 50% in the 1992 general election, although his Democratic opponent was largely unknown. Registered Democrats also outnumber Republicans in Dornan's 46th Congressional District, Kaspar points out.
So how do you plan to do it, I asked. "He's never allowed a Democrat to define himself to the voter. What we will do is we'll help the Democrat define Dornan but also provide a heat shield which will allow the (Democratic) nominee to go out and define himself. Dornan has a propensity to get out and yell and scream very loudly at his opponent. You name the label to put on them--he'll try to call people these names and he gets a lot of attention. What BeatBob is going to be is to dog Dornan every step of the way. What we're going to do is bring a picture of Bob Dornan that the district is not aware of--that he's a very ineffective legislator who's mired in the politics of hatred and intolerance."
People have said that before about Dornan (see: Republican Primary, 1992), but it hasn't worked. But this time around, the Democrats are stepping up the intensity.
They have already made a video using some of Dornan's more provocative comments. At last month's state Democratic convention, they distributed "trading cards" featuring photos of Dornan atop similar snippets of his public utterances. And they're gleefully awaiting the release of a book of Dornan-isms, which the Democrats have indelicately entitled, "Shut Up, Fag," a reference to Dornan's wife Sallie's alleged rejoinder to a gay-rights activist at a meeting a few years ago. The Times' coverage of the meeting indicates that Sallie Dornan called the activist a "fag" and later told him to "shut up." After the activist demanded an apology for the slur, Sallie Dornan did so.
You realize Dornan won't take this kind of campaign lying down, I suggested. "I look forward to him coming after us," Kaspar says. "He'll say what he wants to say, that's fine, but once we've engaged this guy and have his attention, which we do, he'll be in for a trashing. We're going to engage him in ways he can't even imagine."
I suggested this has the earmarks of an ugly campaign. Kaspar disagrees: "It's going to be aboveboard and a clean campaign in the sense that how much cleaner can you get than repeat someone's own words? We're not making this stuff up."
Dornan has alternately dismissed and berated the BeatBob campaign thus far, saying it's a guise to help local Democrats raise money for other candidates. In a fund-raising letter, however, Dornan says, "And when I tell you how they are attacking me with lies, venomous distortions and unfiltered hatred, I know you will agree that liberal politics have sunk to a new low."
He goes on to say that BeatBob "hopes to bury me under so much filth that I must spend all my time refuting their lies as I did in 1992."
Dornan has said that, win or lose, this will be his last congressional campaign.
If so, Democrats appear set on making it one he'll remember.
"The primary issue is Bob Dornan, himself," Kaspar says. "I think his character and his own sanity are an issue here." Citing Dornan's publicized verbal and physical altercations with other House members, Kaspar says, "Those will be issues and things that will drive Dornan nuts. If we begin to talk about those issues, about the fact that he's not all there, completely sane, it's going to make him crazier and I think those are the things that are going to propel this campaign to an even higher profile."
Citizens of Orange County, consider yourselves forewarned. As political discourse goes, the upcoming campaign probably won't remind anyone of Gladstone and Disraeli.
"I mean this, I'm looking forward to engaging Bob Dornan," Kaspar says. "I don't think the county will have seen a campaign quite like this."
Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by writing to him at The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626, or calling (714) 966-7821.