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And the Campaign Goes On - Sonny Bono for Congress

May 7, 1994

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. (AP) _ Sonny Bono’s moment of truth came on the set of ″Fantasy Island″ during a spat with a fellow actor.

Bono was adrift. He lost his job and identity when he and Cher broke up in 1974. He was so foggy he addressed the late Herve Villechaize’s character, the midget Tattoo, as Pontoon.

″He kicked me,″ Bono recalled. ″I said, ‘Thank you, God. I got the message.’ ″

It was time for a change. Life could be more than guest spots on TV shows. A politician was born.

After two forays into politics, Bono is running for Congress, representing the desert resort communities in the Coachella Valley and a slice of Riverside.

As mayor of Palm Springs and in a losing race for U.S. Senate in 1992, Bono had trouble bridging the gap between his life as an entertainer and his days as a public servant. Credibility was a problem.

He didn’t help by displaying an embarrassing lack of knowledge about basic issues. This time, Bono is a little smoother, a little more conservative and a lot better read than he was when he finished last in the Senate Republican primary two years ago.

Bono, 59, weaves anecdotes about his Hollywood days into campaign speeches and has a chance to win the June 7 primary in his predominantly Republican district. The incumbent, Rep. Al McCandless, is retiring after 12 years.

″I’m not as green as I used to be,″ Bono said. ″I decided that I’m just going to be me.″

Bono’s top opponent, Riverside County Supervisor Corky Larson, calls him a lightweight who lacks political experience and will lose in the general election.

″He is a celebrity, obviously,″ Larson said. ″But this isn’t about being able to sing or dance. This is about Congress, the most important job that we elect people to locally.″

Bono still has some rough edges. He laments how complicated government is and how he doesn’t really understand some of the stuff he sees on C-Span. But he can discuss the latest flap over a new state-mandated test for schoolchildren, or cite statistics on the cost of education.

Bono still has the humble charm that made him a star on ″The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour,″ which ran on CBS from 1971-1977.

On the campaign trail, he brings his familiar smile and bushy mustache to voters’ homes in the 44th District. During one precinct walk in the community of Banning, people reacted with surprise, shock and admiration that a man as famous as Bono would come to their doors.

″I am a great admirer of yours,″ said Jerry Frascella, 59. He gave Bono a hug because they’re both Italian. ″I’ve got your picture and I know I’ll vote for you.″

Later, Jack Huffman, 41, vigorously shook Bono’s hand and said, ″I watch all your movies, Mr. Bono. I never miss any of them.″

Huffman’s 11-year-old daughter, Georgia, was less impressed.

″Who’s Mr. Bono?″ she asked.

Bono, who wrote the hit songs ″The Beat Goes On″ and ″I’ve Got You Babe, told his ″Fantasy Island″ story at a campaign gathering at the home of a supporter.

″After Sonny and Cher broke up, I was really lost. I never expected to be anything but a performer,″ he told about 25 people.

″I couldn’t get a job,″ he said. ″I wound up being a professional guest star. I did about 335 ‘Love Boats.’ I thought that would maybe get me back into the business.″

But Bono insists he’s not a professional politician, even if he talks like one.

″I think that we’ve reached a time now in which government is taking our freedom away,″ he said. ″I want to go and not be part of the old boy’s club. If I win this race, I’m going to go and represent the people and not the special interests.″

And the beat goes on.

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