Vote for me, far-right Bob tells Latinos

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The Independent Online
DEEP down in Orange County, in the conservative heart of conservative southern California, a man with flaming red hair and a temper to match is claiming to be more Latino than Latinos and is distributing graphic pictures of aborted foetuses.

Is he a headcase, some kind of crazed militiaman? Actually he is the Republican Party's candidate running for Congress in California's 46th district. But you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

In more than 40 years of service in the House of Representatives, Bob Dornan became known as the most rabidly right-wing Congressman in Washington. He abhorred homosexuals, decried "spear-chucking lesbians", voted to slash healthcare for the elderly and championed just about every defence initiative going, nutty or not. B-1 Bob, they called him (after the bomber).

Two years ago he lost his seat by such a slim margin that he immediately began ranting about fraud, accusing his opponent, Loretta Sanchez, of stuffing the ballots with phoney votes cast by illegal immigrants. When the House Oversight Committee threw the case out, Mr Dornan reacted huffily with a one-man bid for the presidency.

And now he is back in his old district, against the advice of his own party, determined to wreak revenge on Ms Sanchez (who, in the interim, has become one of the most respected Latino politicians in Washington).

"I'm the only true Latino in this race" is his slogan, an odd line to take for someone who has thoroughly alienated many Latinos with his slash- and-burn approach to immigration and social programmes. But Mr Dornan believes, as a staunch Roman Catholic who once built a shrine to the Virgin Mary in his back garden, that the religious Latino community feels a greater bond with him than with the secular Ms Sanchez.

As if to prove his point, he has been distributing booklets with an image of the Virgin of Guadeloupe on the cover and abortion pictures inside. All signs are, though, that the tactic is backfiring, while generating considerable indignation among Latino church leaders. In fact, the 65- year-old Mr Dornan appears to be heading for defeat big time (or, as he likes to say in his recently acquired pidgin Spanish, "grande tiempo"). This time around, he has less campaign money than Ms Sanchez and, the polls show, far less credibility with an increasingly Latino population.

The attempt to revive his career - a homespun operation involving many of his numerous children and grandchildren - has nevertheless resuscitated some extraordinary memories. Like the time Bill Clinton (a "draft-dodging wimp" in Mr Dornan's book) said he looked as if he needed a rabies shot. Or when he challenged Democratic Congressman Robert Menendez to a fist fight on the floor of the House, earning himself an expulsion heartily supported by more than 100 of his fellow Republicans.

Detested by liberals everywhere, Mr Dornan never really earned much affection among conservatives either - although he has filled in on the rabidly right-wing Rush Limbaugh's radio show from time to time. Even Ronald Reagan, his all-time hero, felt obliged to keep him at arm's length, describing him drily as "a true American original".

Ms Sanchez cannot believe her luck to be running against B-1 Bob again. "All we have to do is wait for him to open his mouth and we pick up votes," said the incumbent's campaign manager, Lee Godown.