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California and the West

Rep. Bono Says He Won't Seek Senate Seat in 1998

June 26, 1997|CATHLEEN DECKER | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

In a blow to conservatives and comics alike, Rep. Sonny Bono on Wednesday took himself out of the 1998 race for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Democrat Barbara Boxer. The second-term congressman said the race would be too hard on his family and constituents.

While Jay Leno and David Letterman may have responded with anguish, Bono's three major competitors for the Republican nomination praised the Palm Springs representative and sought to lay claim to his supporters.

In a press release issued in Washington, Bono said he was, essentially, practicing family values.

"I gave this decision a lot of thought, and I determined that my greatest ethical responsibility was to my family," he said. "The demands of a statewide campaign combined with my congressional duties would simply prevent me from giving my family the time and attention they deserve."

Bono has two young children, a 9-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter, with his wife, Mary. He also has two adult children from previous marriages.

The erstwhile singing and comedy partner to Cher would have been making his second bid for the Senate had he run. He placed third in the Republican primary in 1992, behind then-Rep. Tom Campbell and television commentator Bruce Herschensohn. The latter was among Bono's biggest boosters this time around.

Bono, a former mayor of Palm Springs, won his seat in Congress in 1994. After initial difficulties with an image that seemed frozen in the 1960s, bobcat vest and all, he won respect for his self-deprecating manner and forays into substance. Among other things, he is now pushing for consumer labeling of fresh fruit, the restoration of the Salton Sea and the establishment of three-judge councils to ascertain the constitutionality of voter-approved ballot propositions.

A spokesman, Frank Cullen Jr., said Bono was confident that he could have raised the money necessary for a Senate race but was uncomfortable with the demands that would put on his time.

"That was really one of the biggest issues, just the commitment of time," Cullen said.

The impact of Bono's decision on Boxer's other challengers is limited, given that the race has barely begun. Nonetheless, each--San Diego Mayor Susan Golding, state Treasurer Matt Fong and businessman Darrell Issa--was declared by aides to be the beneficiary.

Realistically, Bono's absence means the others will not have to compete with his statewide presence and can, at least theoretically, lower their spending and fund-raising accordingly.

"Having statewide name ID in California for a statewide primary like this is a significant benefit, and it's costly for everyone else," said Tom Shepard, a Golding spokesman. "It underlines the truly significant challenge all these candidates face in adequately funding a statewide effort."

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