Senator Boxer will be tough to defeat in November

Is Barbara Boxer a shoe-in for re-election to the Senate in the fall, or is she in real trouble with California voters?   Her campaign has been moved from the “sure bet” to “iffy” by some important political pundits. 

For example, the highly respected Cook Political Report shows California in the “lean to” category for Boxer – two steps down from “solid” and only one step above “toss up.”  Working against Boxer is an anti-incumbency mood, the momentum of the Republican Party, and the high name recognition of her opponent – former H-P CEO Carly Fiorina.  So should California’s junior Senator be shaking in her boots?  Not according to the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

That organization’s last audit of party affiliation shows that the Democratic Party has grown in California, as have Independents.  The loser in this May 2008 report is the GOP.  Democrats – according to the PPIC audit – make up 45 percent of the California electorate.  That’s only six percent away from a majority.   Republicans, at 31 percent, would have to make up a 20 percent party affiliation deficit to capture the seat.  On top of that, Democrats’ affiliation with their party has been strengthening in recent years, while Republicans’ affiliation has weakened, according to the PPIC. 

Boxer has a financial advantage as well.  Her war chest remained untapped during primary season, while Fiorina had to fight hard against two serious Republican opponents.  A more important cost was strategic in nature.  This year, Republicans all had to campaign for a right wing base that looks extreme in the face of California’s typical liberalism.   Fiorina is already trying to moderate her positions for the general election, but her primary campaign statements on abortion, guns and immigration reform are grist for Boxer’s ads and talking points. 

And the Democratic support team that Boxer can call on – including President Obama, former President Clinton and Senator Feinstein – remain much more popular with Californians than former President George W. Bush, Senate Minority Leader John Boehner, or Governor Schwarzenegger. 

Fiorina is banking on her reputation as a powerful business executive to carry her into the Senate, but a business resume is no guarantee of success as a legislator.  As Mickey Edwards, who writes for The Atlantic and is both a former legislator and university professor, recently commented regarding the campaigns of Fiorina and gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman:  “I do have a problem … with the continued promotion of business success as a qualifier for public office,” he wrote in a June 13 blog. 

     “Success in the market is not an automatic disqualifier for public service, but it is a far different undertaking with different purposes and different values ….  In fact, business and government — while there may be skills involved that are translatable and useful as one moves from one sphere to another — are in some ways polar opposite undertakings.” 

Voters sense the difference in a legislator who works in support of a broad-based public constituency, and an executive who works in support of corporate shareholders and a monolithic board of directors. 

It’s still possible for Barbara “don’t call me ma’m” Boxer to lose in November.  After all, what’s politics if not a horse race?  

But the realities of California’s leanings say that she’s likely to win a fourth term.