Robert K. Dornan, who spent 18 years in Congress before he was defeated two years ago, is being treated like an incumbent by at least one group in his bid to regain the congressional seat.
Trouble is, the treatment isn't welcome.
The League of Conservation Voters, a Washington-based environmental group, has added his name to its list of the Dirty Dozen--those in Congress with poor voting records on conservation matters.
Dornan, the only federal candidate on the list who isn't in office, is aggravated by the attention.
"I haven't been there for a year and a half, so what are they basing it on?" Dornan asked. "It looks like a political attempt to get involved in my comeback."
Indeed, the same voting record didn't earn him a spot among the Dirty Dozen two years ago when he lost a close race for the central Orange County seat to Democrat Loretta Sanchez.
But at the time, "there were an extraordinary number of potential dirty dozen candidates," said Deb Callahan, the league's president. Two years ago, 135 senators and representatives rated zero in the league's ranking, she said.
In addition, the league only targets candidates in close races, and Dornan seemed invincible in 1996, Callahan said.
This year, the league is making Dornan its top priority in a $2-million radio, television and mail campaign targeting 12 federal candidates in close races, she said.
The league, which rates House and Senate members each year on how they voted on environmental issues, said Dornan has voted in favor of conservation issues only 14% of the time during his years in Congress. The group said his tenure "was marked by a barrage of anti-environmental votes."
Sanchez has earned a 75% rating from the league.
Dornan, who said he considers himself a "Teddy Roosevelt conservationist Republican," denies that he has a poor record on environmental issues.
"Since I have 11 grandkids, I want to champion clean air, clean water and wonderful national parks," he said.
The group spent $1.5 million in the 1996 elections, and seven of the 12 candidates it targeted lost.