Palm Springs Mayor Sonny Bono admitted Friday that he is not as articulate as his two opponents for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate, but he said voters are tired of "glib answers and no solutions."
In his first side-by-side debate with conservative Bruce Herschensohn and moderate Rep. Tom Campbell, the former entertainer sprinkled his comments with humor and a dash of sarcasm, portraying himself as the true "mainstream Republican" in the contest for a six-year Senate seat.
He rigorously defended his ability to represent California in the Senate on the basis of his common sense and hands-on experience as mayor in Palm Springs.
Scorning Herschensohn and Campbell as political insiders, Bono paraphrased Ronald Reagan's 1981 inaugural address in saying, "They're part of the problem, not the solution."
Afterward, Bono, the former husband of singer-actress Cher, told reporters: "I had an enjoyable time. It was the first time I've ever experienced anything like this."
As they did in a November debate--while Bono was skiing in Aspen--Herschensohn, the Los Angeles television commentator, and Campbell, the second-term congressman from Stanford, accused each other of being outside of mainstream Republican thinking for Californians.
Campbell once again attacked Herschensohn's flat tax proposal as impractical and potentially disastrous for California homeowners. Herschensohn defended the plan as the only way to bring the federal budget into balance and end tax increases.
As they aimed comments mostly at each other, the exchanges between Herschensohn and Campbell had a sharper edge than in their earlier debate in Orange County. Campbell called Herschensohn's views "extreme." Herschensohn accused Campbell of distorting and misrepresenting his proposals and record.
For Bono, the challenge is whether he can join the field as a credible candidate for the seat now held by Democrat Alan Cranston, who is retiring at the end of this term. Bono is widely considered a wild card and possible spoiler in the contest, but not a likely winner.
The most recent California Poll, conducted in January, showed Herschensohn and Campbell tied with 27% support from Republicans and Bono with 16%. Bono's name identification has been very high, but so have his negative impressions among voters.
Whether Bono made it a three-man race Friday remains to be seen, but he received the longest sustained applause from the audience of several hundred Republicans at the conclusion of his summation.
After the two-hour discussion, in which each candidate was asked to respond to questions, Herschensohn said he thought Bono's performance was a good one.
"He did it with style," said Herschensohn, who is making his second run for the Senate.
Campbell complained that Bono was not specific with most answers, although Bono was much more prepared than he was for the speeches he gave late last year, before hiring Washington consultant Bill Lacy to take over management of his campaign.
In one appearance in late 1991, when Bono was asked about foreign trade and the trade deficit, he said: "That's a tricky one," and said he would have to study it more.
"A good debate is when you have substance," Campbell said. "There was not as much substance (from Bono) as there could have been."
When the candidates were asked what they would do to solve problems created by illegal immigration into this country, both Herschensohn and Campbell gave rather detailed answers.
When it was Bono's turn, he said: "This may sound incredibly simple after all that articulating, but what strikes me funny is when something is illegal, it's illegal. Enforce the law. . . . I wish it was more complicated than that. But that's the way I do with my city and it works out fine."
During the rebuttal period on the immigration question, Bono said: "There's not a lot to rebut." But he proceeded to use the issue as an example of his theme that government is overloaded with too much bureaucracy that inhibits the economy and stymies action.
"We go on and on about a simple problem and when we start getting reactive and complicated, that's a disease of this country and what it does is create bureaucracy."
In his summation, Bono noted that Herschensohn called Campbell too liberal and Campbell called Herschensohn too conservative.
"You know what? They're both right," he said. "Neither one of them can get elected. . . . They're both insiders. They're both out of touch with conservative California Republican views."
Bono said his qualifications may be questioned, but "people told me I wasn't qualified to be a songwriter, a businessman or a mayor. I succeeded in all three through hard work, through commitment and--most of all--common sense."