Boxer may be tough to beat in US Senate race

Barbara Boxer’s opponents may be exulting in her “vulnerability” as the 2010 election approaches, but they shouldn’t be tempted to underestimate California’s junior senator.  With practically zero effort, Boxer remains tied with or slightly behind two potential opponents – Tom Campbell and Carly Fiorina – according to a recent Field Poll.  

Even more important, the Los Angeles Times reports that Boxer has $8.7 million in the bank to fund her campaign, with more to come when President Obama arrives next week for a major fundraising event on the Democrat’s behalf.

Compared to Boxer’s $2.4 million in contributions for the first quarter of 2010, Campbell, the leading Republican, amassed only $1.6 million.  But Boxer has far more going for her than just money. 

First, she’s a Democrat in a decidedly blue state.  Second, she’s been in office for nearly 18 years – long enough to mature as a legislator and to create high name recognition.  Third, in a state that prides itself on diversity, she’s very popular among minority groups such as Hispanics and Chinese.  And finally, she can let the three Republicans tear each other apart in the primary campaign without tarnishing her own reputation.

Underestimating Boxer has been a recurring theme in every one of her campaigns.  She’s been called a lightweight, too liberal, too feminist, and too outspoken.  She made headlines early when she led a march in support of Anita Hill, who testified against then Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.  More recently, she advocated against the war in Iraq when the nation and the Senate had become convinced of its necessity.

The New York Times cites her voting record as “among the most liberal in the Senate” and notes that she has been a vocal advocate of abortion rights for women.  She even opposed the popular bill to ban partial-birth abortion.

But, she has increased her legislative gravitas as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and with stands favoring the arming of pilots on American airliners (in which she was allied with right-winger Jim Bunning – Republican of Kentucky).  

In 2009, she famously asked Army Brigadier General Michael Walsh to call her “Senator” instead of “Ma’m.”  This moment of fame for both she and the General has brought derision from mainline and right wing media, but is likely to keep her front and center with women voters who understand the impact of slights in the form of gentlemanly behavior.

Boxer’s margins have increased with each of her Senatorial victories, and while this year may be the season to unseat Democrats on a national level, it seems unlikely that the GOP shouting match over who is far enough right to be a “Real Republican” will help to bring about her demise.

Her opponents should keep in mind that she has yet to reach the starting gate, and she has always been able to gain traction with Californians once her campaigns begin.