The rivalry between Republican Senate candidate Bruce Herschensohn and his GOP primary opponent Tom Campbell became even more bitter and personal Saturday as the two engaged in a tense confrontation as they met with reporters here.
Herschensohn stared point-blank at Campbell and called him, slowly and emphatically: “Childish, immature, arrogant.”
“And what is worst of all,” Herschensohn added, standing about two feet from Campbell, “is that you symbolize . . . what is wrong with the United States Congress today.”
Campbell, 39, the two-term congressman from Palo Alto, got red in the face as Herschensohn, the conservative Los Angeles commentator, launched his verbal attack.
When Herschensohn, 59, was done, Campbell, his voice quaking, said: “We are electing a United States senator here. It’s important to keep the discussion on the issues and with a level of maturity and seriousness. I will not engage in the kind of name-calling that you have just heard.”
The exchange took place shortly after Campbell, Herschensohn and former Palm Springs Mayor Sonny Bono filed into a conference room to meet with reporters after a half-hour discussion of issues at television station KPIX.
During the taping, for broadcast later Saturday, the three generally reiterated positions on various topics.
Campbell and Herschensohn have traded increasingly bitter charges in the past several weeks of their campaign for the Republican nomination for the six-year Senate seat at stake in California. They have been running virtually neck and neck in public opinion polls, although Campbell moved into a 10-point lead in the Los Angeles Times Poll last week.
The charges that have flown back and forth recently between the two camps have been based primarily on each candidate’s characterization of the other’s record--Campbell’s primarily based on his votes in Congress and Herschensohn’s on his 13 years of commentaries on KABC radio and television in Los Angeles.
This contest has provided the most dramatic ideological schism of the four Senate matchups in the June 2 primary--Republican and Democratic primaries for Alan Cranston’s six-year seat and the two-year post held by Republican John Seymour, who was appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson.
Herschensohn has proposed the elimination of several federal agencies, such as the departments of Education and Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, if they cannot demonstrate they are fulfilling their missions without hurting the economy. He also has proposed a flat-rate income tax linked to a balanced budget with elimination of all deductions and exemptions.
Herschensohn also has opposed any cuts in the defense budget, claiming that the world remains too dangerous for that in spite of the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Campbell is a moderate to liberal Republican on social and environmental issues--often being the only California Republican in the House to vote with Democrats--but maintains that he is a loyal conservative on fiscal and economic issues.
The debate, conducted by long distance until now, has included Campbell TV commercials that open by saying: “Bruce Herschensohn is lying.”
Herschensohn has been angered by the failure to get Campbell to debate him more often. Saturday’s meeting was their seventh of the campaign by Campbell’s count and fourth or fifth by Herschensohn’s tally. He used both figures at different points.
Campbell said he would debate Herschensohn and Bono again this coming weekend, “if I can.” But he added that it has been difficult for him because he has had to spend most of each week in Washington for congressional sessions, limiting campaigning to the weekends. He will be in California this week.
Before Campbell arrived in the conference room, Herschensohn had labeled him as “very immature, very childish, very arrogant.”
After Campbell arrived, he was asked how he felt about being called childish.
“He called me that?” Campbell asked.
Herschensohn said: “I wanted to do it to your face, but apparently I couldn’t do it (during the television taping).”
“Well, here,” Campbell said, and Herschensohn launched into his labels for the congressman.
Later, Campbell spelled out his vision of the Republican Party:
“This contest and this primary really is a challenge, whether the Republican Party will look to the future or look to the past. The vision I have for the Republican Party is fiscally conservative, that respects the rights of individuals, that doesn’t have the government telling individuals whether or not they have control over their own bodies.”
Campbell said the longtime view of the party--his interpretation of Herschensohn’s vision--is to continue to build up the defense at the expense of the national economy.