WASHINGTON -- Insisting that "winning isn't everything," Rep. Robert K. Dornan joined the presidential race yesterday with zesty attacks on his Republican rivals and the "filth" in American culture.
"We're going to have a good old time," said the California conservative, kicking off his long-shot campaign. "This is going to be a great quest and a great American experience."
Mr. Dornan has a well-earned reputation as an in-your-face politician. But his weakness for overheated rhetoric has gotten him in trouble, as it did earlier this year when the Republican-controlled House rebuked him for implying that President Clinton was a traitor.
He insists he's in the race "to try and win, but it's not everything." He intends to shake up the Republican debate, he says, by raising social issues that the leading candidates would just as soon downplay.
"I think I'm already having an effect, and I haven't even declared until right now," he said, referring to Sen. Bob Dole's speech this week attacking Hollywood for promoting sex and violence.
On the day he set aside to announce his presidential candidacy -- Thomas Jefferson's birthday, he repeatedly reminded listeners Mr. Dornan took a number of shots at the leading Republican contenders.
He repeatedly brought up two of Mr. Dole's political weak spots -- his age and his status as a Washington insider -- and questioned whether the Kansas senator could run both the Senate and a presidential campaign at the same time.
Implying that Mr. Dole lacks real convictions, Mr. Dornan told one television interviewer: "Where's the courage? Where are the opinions? Where is the leadership?"
He dismissed Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, the leading contender for the support of the party's conservative wing, as a former Democrat who once supported "that massive tax increase that destroyed George Bush."
But he said he'd "leave it up to the voters" to decide whether Mr. Gramm's lack of military service disqualifies him to be president.
And he sharply criticized his home-state governor, Pete Wilson, as a "country club Republican" who had signed the largest state-tax increase in history, described abortion as largely an economic question and changed positions for purely political reasons.
"I never dreamed he would pull a Clinton," he added, referring to Mr. Wilson's decision to run for president after promising voters of his state that he would not.
Mr. Dornan maintains that he's no further to the right than the other candidates in the GOP race, and the issues that he highlighted yesterday -- traditional social values, replacing the income tax with a flat tax, eliminating the federal budget deficit -- are very much in the conservative mainstream of the Republican Party today.
His rambling 30-minute announcement speech was delivered largely off the cuff to a handful of friends and supporters. It was, by his own standards, restrained.
Mr. Dornan directed his most vituperative remarks at the entertainment industry, for what he termed "the filth and blasphemous language" on TV movies, soap operas, talk shows and situation comedies.
Capitalism cannot survive and crime can never be stopped if America "has lost its virtue," said the 61-year-old candidate, whose "battle cry" is "faith, family and freedom."
"If someone is not publicly indignant and saying 'Stop this' with our cultural meltdown and moral decline," he said, "then I'll show LTC you somebody who's a bystander watching the destruction of their country."
A sometime fill-in host of Rush Limbaugh's radio show, Mr. Dornan has built a national following among conservatives during 19 years in Congress representing Orange County, Calif.
But "unfair liberal journalists," he contends, have "created a mythical Bob Dornan that doesn't exist -- someone who beats his grandchildren and who is a mean curmudgeon in the cloakroom."
Mr. Dornan chose as his announcement site an obscure Washington tourist attraction, the 4-year-old National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial -- which honors police officers who have died in the line of duty -- to highlight the crime issue and those who "gave the full measure of their devotion" to the country, he said.
There are now seven declared candidates for the GOP nomination, Sens. Dole, Gramm and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania; former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, commentator Patrick J. Buchanan and talk-show host Alan R. Keyes.
Two more, Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana and Mr. Wilson, are to announce later this spring.