Dornan Eyes Cox’s Seat in Possible Bid for Congress

Times Staff Writer

Former U.S. Rep. Robert K. Dornan, a rabble-rousing Republican and notorious conservative who represented Orange County from 1985 through 1996, is eyeing another run for Congress, despite defeats in 1996, 1998 and 2004.

This time, Dornan, 72, is weighing whether to abandon the GOP and run as a candidate for the American Independent Party. He is hoping to gain a strategic advantage in a bid for the plum coastal congressional seat held by Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach).

The seat is expected to open this year with the U.S. Senate’s anticipated confirmation of Cox as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

So far, two other Republicans -- state Sen. John Campbell of Irvine and former Assemblywoman Marilyn C. Brewer of Newport Beach -- have announced they plan to seek the post.

Running as an independent candidate has appeal, Dornan said Wednesday, because he would not have to change parties to appear on the ballot -- as long as at least 40 registered American Independent Party voters signed his nomination papers.


All candidates would appear on the same ballot in the special election, with the top vote-getters from each party in a runoff if there is no clear majority.

Campbell and Brewer are too moderate and unreliable on such issues as abortion, said Dornan, who lives in Virginia but is registered to vote in Sunset Beach.

“This time, I’m not going to see a safe conservative seat go to someone like Marilyn Brewer,” he said by telephone. He said social liberals, who he predicted would back both Campbell and Brewer, “are a metastasizing cancer on the Republican party to turn us into Democrats.”

American Independent Party officials said they would welcome Dornan into the fold.

“From my standpoint, if Mr. Dornan decided to cast his lot with us, I’d be delighted to have him,” said William Shearer, a former state party chairman who lives in San Diego County. “He’s a former member of Congress with a record of courage, and we’d welcome him.”

Such a candidacy would mark Dornan’s final break from the GOP, which turned its back on him last year when he challenged Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) and grabbed only 16.8% of the vote.

Republican party leaders were dismissive of Dornan’s possible candidacy. “It appears he’s becoming a serial candidate,” scoffed Orange County party chairman Scott Baugh. “Abandoning the Republican party won’t make Republicans want to vote for him.”

Dornan lost his congressional seat in 1996 to Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Anaheim). He challenged her again in 1998 and lost again.

The American Independent Party has about 29,000 registered voters in Orange County, with 7,620 voters in Cox’s 48th Congressional District. Republicans have 202,793 voters in the district; Democrats have 109,514.

The independent platform includes ending foreign aid and debt financing by state and federal governments, ending the federal income tax and international trade pacts, reducing immigration and ending subsidies to illegal immigrants. The group opposes abortion and claims it’s the only party to support a state’s right to recognize God and the Ten Commandments.

American Independent Party chairman Mark Seidenberg of Aliso Viejo said that decades ago he had encouraged Dornan, then a television talk show host, to make his first run for Congress in 1976.

“He’d make a very good candidate,” Seidenberg said.

Campbell said he was underwhelmed by the possible challenge. Brewer could not be reached for comment.

“It’s pretty clear I’m a mainstream conservative,” Campbell said, “and I don’t think Mr. Dornan is anywhere near the mainstream.”