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O.C. CONGRESSIONAL RACES : Dornan and Farber Slug It Out; Other Districts Are Calmer

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With just four days remaining before Tuesday’s election, a political slugfest marked by name-calling, finger-pointing and lawsuits is grabbing most of the attention in Orange County’s congressional races, overshadowing the more subdued contests being waged in most other districts.

The heated, highly personal campaign between Rep. Robert K. Dornan and Democratic challenger Mike Farber in the 46th Congressional District showed no sign of abating at week’s end.

Dornan (R-Garden Grove) has belittled his Democratic opponent, calling him a “twit” and a political carpetbagger who moved to the district from San Diego. The Democrat, in turn, has accused Dornan of lying about Farber’s statements in recent mailers sent to voters in the district, which takes in parts of Anaheim, Garden Grove and Santa Ana.

“Bob Dornan’s competence and character are on trial here,” said Farber, a businessman who defeated six other Democrats in June for the right to take on the combative conservative.

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Dornan scoffed, predicting that central Orange County voters who have remained faithful to him for eight terms will return him to Congress for a ninth.

In contrast, most of the county’s five other congressional races have been fairly tame affairs this election season, with incumbent Republican congressmen appearing unlikely to face serious challenges from their Democratic and third-party rivals.

A possible exception is the 45th Congressional District, where a relatively spirited contest is underway for the seat held by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach.)

Democratic candidate Brett Williamson, a Costa Mesa attorney, has attacked Rohrabacher’s record of support for Proposition 187, the ballot measure that would deny public education, social services and all but emergency health care to illegal immigrants. Williamson has also criticized the incumbent’s voting record on such issues as crime and the environment.

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In addition to the 45th District, which takes in northwest Orange County, including many of the coastal cities, other congressional races on the local ballots include:

* The 39th District, where Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) faces a challenge from Democratic opponent R.O. (Bob) Davis, a Buena Park businessman, and Libertarian Jack Dean, a Fullerton business owner. The district straddles northern Orange County and southern Los Angeles County.

* The 41st District, which touches northern Orange County and sections of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. First-term incumbent Rep. Jay C. Kim (R-Diamond Bar) faces Democrat Ed Tessier, an urban redeveloper from Pomona.

* The 46th District in central Orange County, where Dornan has opposition from Farber and Libertarian Richard G. Newhouse, a college professor from Garden Grove.

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* The 47th District in central and coastal Orange County. Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach), faces Democratic opposition from Gary Kingsbury, an Irvine educational training consultant, and Libertarian Victor A. Wagner Jr., a computer programmer from Mission Viejo.

* The 48th District, which includes parts of southern Orange County and sections of Riverside and San Diego counties. Rep. Ron Packard (R-Oceanside) is on the ballot with Democrat Andrei Leschick, a defense conversion director from Valley Center, and Peace and Freedom candidate Donna White of San Diego.

Of all six congressional contests in Orange County this year, the race in the 48th could probably be considered the most congenial.

In a debate scheduled to air tonight on KOCE-TV, Packard and Leschick took pains not to criticize one another, with Leschick even stressing the importance of nonpartisan solutions to government problems. But the two men differed on several issues, most markedly on Proposition 187, which Packard favors and Leschick opposes.

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White, the Peace and Freedom Party candidate, did not attend the forum.

Cox and Royce, the incumbents in the 47th and 39th districts, respectively, also appear to face relatively minor opposition in Tuesday’s election and are expected to retain their seats fairly easily.

Kingsbury, Cox’s Democratic rival, has centered his campaign on strong opposition to the development of a commercial airport at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. But Cox says he also opposes Measure A, the ballot initiative that would zone El Toro exclusively for an airport.

In the 41st District, which takes in a sliver of Orange County, incumbent Kim has run a relatively low-key campaign against Tessier and apparently can afford to do so, according to political observers.

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Even though Kim, the first Korean American elected to Congress, is still under investigation for possible violations of federal election, tax and labor laws in connection with his 1992 campaign, he faced his most serious electoral challenge in the June primary, not in Tuesday’s election, said UC Irvine political scientist Mark Petracca.

“Given the continuing investigations, it’s surprising that Kim hasn’t been given a harder time in this election. But Tessier doesn’t have the name recognition or the financing to do it,” Petracca said.

A much tougher battle has been waged in Rohrabacher’s 45th District, where first-time candidate Williamson has surprised many observers by mounting an effective campaign and fund-raising effort, Petracca said.

“For the first time in a long time in this county, you have a very viable Democratic candidate in one of these races, someone who’s a good debater and a good fund-raiser,” the political scientist said. “I give (Williamson) a high probability of making this the closest congressional race in the county.”

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Williamson, who had spent about $69,000 as of Oct. 19, has aggressively attacked Rohrabacher’s voting record, claiming that the congressman’s conservative views do not reflect those of his district.

“He’s an extremist at every stage,” Williamson said, noting Rohrabacher’s vote against a bill banning assault weapons earlier this year.

Rohrabacher, who has raised more than $104,000 but contributed much of it to other campaigns, responded that he and his constituents are in sync on his assault weapons vote and other issues, including his strong support for Proposition 187.

“My conservative philosophy reflects the voters of this district, who have voted for Ronald Reagan and other conservative candidates over the years,” he said.

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By far the nastiest congressional contest, however, has been between Dornan and Farber in the nearby 46th District.

Farber, who moved to the district about two years ago to run against the longtime congressman, said he remained hopeful last week that voters would respond to his message despite what he called “the deafening noise” created by the Dornan campaign.

“We are certainly the underdog,” Farber said. “We’re being outspent 10 to 1 and Dornan has a mail program that’s second to none.”

Dornan, one of the most successful fund-raisers in Congress, had spent $1.2 million on the race as of Oct. 19, when the most recent campaign finance statements were filed. Farber had spent $184,000.

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Democrats had believed Dornan vulnerable, largely because his district is the only one in Orange County in which Democrats outnumber Republicans. The party holds a registration edge of 48.5% to 40.5% in the district.

Petracca said Farber may be able to make the outcome relatively close by relentlessly assailing Dornan on everything from his conservative voting record to his character.

In the most controversial episode, Farber used old court records to accuse Dornan of having physically attacked his wife, Sallie Dornan, on several occasions over a 15-year period beginning in 1960.

Both Dornans have denied the allegations, saying the abuse never occurred and insisting that the charges were the result of drug abuse by Sallie Dornan. They also filed a libel lawsuit against Farber, who this week filed a countersuit against Dornan, charging that a new Dornan campaign mailer is defamatory.

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