In Texas, it's known as the "LBJ law," because it was written to allow then-U.S. Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson to run for reelection in case he was not elected vice president in 1960.
Now, Orange County congressman and Republican presidential candidate Robert K. Dornan is adopting the same strategy, working to run for the seat he holds in the U.S. House of Representatives while continuing his long-shot bid for the GOP presidential nomination.
The Garden Grove Republican hopes to learn today what he must do to get on the California ballot and continue his national campaign through February, when the key Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary are held.
Having promised originally to decide by early October whether he would seek reelection to his central Orange County congressional district or hang on to his presidential aspirations, Dornan first moved the decision date back to mid-November. But now he's wondering whether he must decide at all.
Dornan's obstacle is not a legal one because the California secretary of state's office says it is possible to run in both contests. California's election code prohibits candidates from seeking two offices in the same election, but the law also considers the presidential primary and the regular state primary separate elections, explained Beth Miller, spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office.
"It may appear at first blush to be a conflict," Miller said, "but he's not a candidate twice."
So, Dornan could file for reelection to the 46th Congressional District and work to be added to the California presidential primary ballot. The secretary of state will announce by Nov. 27 the names of nationally recognized candidates to be placed on the presidential ballot, and continue adding names through Jan. 22.
But Dornan may face practical problems. Candidates not listed by the secretary of state must submit petitions signed by 1% of the registered Republican voters statewide, Miller said. As of February, there were more than 5.2 million registered Republicans in California.
Dornan's daughter Theresa Cobban, who also serves as his campaign manager, said the campaign wants the rules in writing before making a decision on whether to follow both tracks.
"He's being heavily drafted for the district [race]," Cobban said, adding that Dornan also feels pressed to remain in the national campaign.
Should he go for both, Dornan's big challenge might be balancing the irresistible temptation to play presidential politics against the chores of a more mundane, less glamorous congressional reelection campaign.
Dornan is likely to be challenged by at least one Republican and several Democrats in a majority Democratic district where he defeated his opponent in 1994 by a 20-point margin.
Still intent on capturing Dornan's congressional seat, his critics have been watching his every move.
"I think his biggest challenge is explaining to the people what he is up to," said Bob Stiens, a political consultant who is advising announced Democratic challenger Jim Prince of Santa Ana.
"He ought to get out of the dream of running for President and decide if he wants to represent the people of his district," Stiens added.
Although Dornan is at the bottom of the pack of the nine announced GOP presidential candidates, he appears reluctant to drop out of the race just yet.
He plans to participate later this month in a television debate in New Hampshire with other GOP presidential candidates, an opportunity to publicly discuss California Gov. Pete Wilson's past tax increases and promote the anti-abortion agenda.
But with his presidential campaign in debt, according to finance reports filed in July, Dornan himself had expected to be out of the race sooner than later.
In recent interviews, however, Dornan has grown optimistic about his chances of qualifying for federal matching funds that would extend the life of his campaign.
"We still have a remote chance to be that somebody [at the top with Dole]," Dornan said recently.
He also briefly touched on his new dual strategy during an interview aired this week on the "MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour."
"I really wondered if I could go this long, and now I can see that I can probably go the distance, if I can do what Phil Gramm does and that's run in my state and for President at the same time. If he can do it, why can't I?" Dornan said.
Stiens speculated that Dornan "may be just holding on in there to get taxpayer subsidies for his race," referring to attempts to qualify for federal matching funds.
Should Dornan decide to participate in both campaigns, the funds must be raised separately and cannot be commingled, said a spokesman for the Federal Election Commission.
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Rep. Robert K. Dornan, contemplating whether to run again for the House of Representatives from his central Orange County district, has previously indicated he would not seek reelection to his seat. A look at some of his statements:
* Feb. 19, 1994: . . . Dornan's plans were revealed several weeks ago, in a fund-raising letter sent to his supporters, in which he underscored this would be his "final race for Congress . . . I ask my supporters to ride with me one more time toward the thunder of the political battlefield."
* Nov. 11, 1994: "I do not see myself running for another House term . . . [but] I would have no problem saying: 'All bets are off. We are in the majority. I am going to stay in the House.' "
* March 26, 1995: "It's a very natural impulse for senior members not to want to give up their one shot at changing the nation for good." . . . But as he prepares for a possible presidential run, Dornan says the odds are "100-to-1" against him running for reelection in 1996.
Source: Times reports; Researched by GEBE MARTINEZ / Los Angeles Times