Judging from recent polls, the California Senate race between Barbara Boxer and presumptive Republican candidate Carly Fiorina will be somewhat less than inspiring. Boxer leads Fiorina primarily because, even with her high negatives of 46%, “she is helped by the fact that even if she’s not too popular, her opposition isn’t either” says Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling.
Will this be one of those races where both major candidates say vote for me because the other one is even worse? Unfortunately, that’s how the race is shaping up.
Fiorina is employing the classic ploy of tacking sharply to the edge of the party during the primary to pick up votes from the hardcore faithful, who tend to be both the most engaged and the most conservative. Then, during the general election, she will no doubt move back to the middle in an attempt to pick up moderate swing voters. This is a time-honored tactic, and politicians of both parties do it.
Except for Boxer, that is.
Therein lays one of her major strengths. Boxer is a solid liberal, makes no apology for it, and doesn’t swerve much, if at all, from her views. Everyone knows who she is and what she stands for. Indeed, the polls show her picking up more swing voters than Fiorina. Plus, California is a heavily Democratic state and that will help her too.
I’ve watched Boxer for years. Every election there are ominous predictions that she is in for a major battle this time, but somehow she always ends up winning fairly easily. Underestimate her at your peril. Yes, Republicans want to take out this liberal icon, but her very "liberalness" is also one of her major assets.
Last week, Fiorina attacked Boxer for calling climate change a national security issue, saying “terrorism kills and Barbara Boxer's worried about the weather?” Sorry Carly, but the Pentagon is worried about climate change too. Their recent Quadrennial Defense Review said “climate change, energy security, and economic stability are inextricably linked” and climate change could hasten geopolitical instability, poverty, mass migrations, food and water shortages, and act as an “accelerant” towards conflict. That certainly sounds like a national security issue to me.
Besides, in a state where many clearly care about environmental issues, mocking climate change seems to be a self-defeating ploy. Fiorina was probably doing this to appeal to the right edge of the party during the primary, but this could clearly come back to bite her during the general election.
Boxer responded with a salvo detailing the many ways she is tough on terrorism while saying that Fiorina isn’t. She also mentions that while Fiorina was HP CEO, the company sold high tech equipment via intermediaries to Iran to bypass the trade sanctions and is being investigated for bribing Russians during that time to win a contract. However, Fiorina has not been directly implicated in any of this.
Boxer then said Fiorina supports people on no-fly lists being able to buy guns. But Fiorina (rightfully, I think) said too many people are mistakenly on the lists and this was also probably a gun rights issue for her.
Unfortunately, the charges here on both sides are primarily innuendo, mostly baseless, and given our dire economic times, quite irrelevant. We need actual debate on pressing issues instead. Like, what will the candidates do as Senator to end the gaping California budget deficit? And can they debate this without the obligatory warm and fuzzy proclamations about growing the economy and nurturing entrepreneurship? That will take years and doesn’t solve the underlying problems.
Besides, we don’t have years. California’s financial problems are too severe and very immediate.
Current polls show Boxer ahead by about 6 points, a comfortable lead. Boxer will unquestionably hit Fiorina for flip-flopping from hard right views during the primary to more centrist views during the general campaign, something Fiorina will not be able to say about Boxer.
Could Boxer lose? Sure, it’s an anti-incumbent year and Obama is weakening in the polls, and that hurts all Democrats. But the race is still Boxer’s to lose.