Let's just get the obvious out of the way: Dana Rohrabacher is going to be elected on Nov. 6 to represent the 48th congressional district, which includes Laguna Beach, Aliso Viejo and all of the northern Orange County coastal cities stretching from Seal Beach down to Laguna Niguel.
The congressman has won every two-year election for the past 24 years, no matter where his OC district lines have been drawn. It's safe Republican territory, includes the county's most Republican city (Newport Beach), and will likely remain that way for the forseeable future.
So Rohrabacher didn't really have to show up at the debate Friday night that went down in the Laguna Beach City Council chambers against his Democratic rival, political newcomer Ron Varasteh.
That's exactly what happened. When the 7 p.m. start time for the debate rolled around, Varasteh sat comfortably in his chair on the council dais in front of a room of not more than 100 curious voters, and waited for Rohrabacher to show.
He never did. Varasteh spent the next two hours fielding questions from League of Women Voters moderator Joan Hake, while Rohrbacher's seat remained empty. When the "debate" was over, it was hard not to feel that the crowd had been Dana-dissed.
Jean Raun, also from the League of Women Voters, told the audience before the debate began that Rohrabacher had picked the Oct. 19 date himself, but according to Rohrabacher, that's not true in the slightest.
"I didn’t pick the date or agree to show up," Rohrabacher told Patch the next day. "And I told my staff I would not participate in any debate that the League of Women Voters arranged. I never would have approved anything in which the League of Women Voters was involved with."
Rohrabacher's problem with the League? Too many lefties.
"In my first runs for office, I permitted the League of Women Voters to run the debate, and both times I found them to be biased towards the liberal-left spectrum, and most of my colleages in Washington found them to be biased as well."
Fair enough—if Rohrabacher didn't want to debate, he didn't want to debate. But why did Raun tell the crowd that Rohrabacher picked the date out when he didn't?
"The date was fixed with my conversation with the person who handles his calls," Raun told Patch. "She's the one that answers the phone, that's all I know. I settled with her on a date that he was available. Naively, I didn't get a response, so I sent a letter by certified mail, and he refused to return a statement saying he would or wouldn't be there."
Hmmm ... Raun doesn't seem to realize that finding out when a candidate is available and actually booking that candidate for an event are two different things. She never got a confirmation from the Rohrabacher camp, but she went ahead and scheduled the debate anyway.
The heavily Democratic-leaning crowd, which seemed to be pretty well-informed politically, pretty much knew where longtime congressman Rohrabacher stood on the issues. It was the unknown and inexperienced Varasteh they wanted to know more about.
But Varasteh's performance underwhelmed. A scientist, engineer and small business owner according to his website, Varasteh spouted familiar talking points for some easy audience love—among them, a call to remove money from politics, a declaration that women should have access to birth control, and a support of universal health care.
Though Varasteh also passed a lot of gaffe. He dragged out that decades-old photo of Rohrabacher posing with Afghan Mujahideen fighters and reacted as if he had some exclusive Rohrabacher-was-in-the-Taliban! scoop. He mixed up progressive U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders with criminal financier Bernie Madoff. He confused fracking with the XL pipeline project. And he thought that Social Security started in the 1960s.
Some audience members who came out expecting the lively two-candidate debate that had been advertised left shaking their heads—disappointed twice in one night.