Despite Boxer’s popular pro-choice stance, Fiorina still within striking distance

Barbara Boxer has a powerful weapon in her Senate battle against Carly Fiorina – and she has already begun to use it.  That weapon is the abortion issue. 

According to the latest Field Poll, some 70 percent of Californians support a woman’s right to choose.  Fiorina had to take a more conservative “pro-life” position in order to win the Republican primary.  Boxer will hold that record over Fiorina’s head for the length of this campaign. 

In fact, “choice” is the subject of two headlined articles on Boxer’s website.  She claims endorsements and financial support from NARAL Pro Choice America, Planned Parenthood, Emily’s List and the National Organization for Women – all organizations that support a woman’s right to choose. 

On the other hand, Fiorina has a bevy of pro-life endorsements, including Rick Santorum’s National Right to Life, the California Pro-Life Council and the Susan B. Anthony List.  Although Fiorina tries her best to side-step the abortion issue in public settings, these endorsements make a clear statement, which has been reinforced by another pro-life endorsement — that of former Alaska Governor and Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin. 

Fiorina’s endorsements are the classic double-edged swords of California politics.  They provided a powerful boost during the Republican primary, and may have brought about Fiorina’s nomination.  But, Republicans represent only about 30 percent of California voters.  And both the Field Poll and the PPIC Poll show her anti-abortion positions to be out of step with the bulk of California voters. 

Despite this clear distinction in their stated views, Boxer leads Fiorina by only five percentage points (39% to 34%), with 22% still undecided.  It’s far from Election Day, and serious campaigning traditionally does not begin until Labor Day.  But, there are some reasons why Boxer’s in-synch position on choice with California voters has not made her an automatic selection. 

Boxer fatigue:  It’s been 18 years since a brash new face emerged from Marin County and took her seat in the U.S. Senate.  Now she’s the “same-old” in a year of anti-incumbency.  Her non-politician opponent represents the perfect mix for 2010 – anti-government, anti-Washington, and a fresh face. 

Wink and nod politics:  Californians may well believe that the far right positions Fiorina has taken are understandable given the realities of the Republican primary.  But they may not believe those are her deeply held views.  She wouldn’t be the first politician to have stretched the truth in order to win an election.  Besides, she looks more like Geraldine Ferraro than Sarah Palin, so she may be perceived as a liberal on women’s issues. 

The woman thing:  California clearly likes to elect women to important offices.  With all the Republican men out of the way in the Senate race, voters can get their femme-fix and still vote Republican. 

The economy, stupid:  Fiorina comes out of the business world.  She automatically gets credited with the seriousness of purpose that voters may feel is needed to fix the economy and bring jobs back to California.  Boxer, not so much. 

Fired Up R’s:  It’s traditional for the party that won a big one to take some hits in the next election cycle.  That seems to be the general direction of the 2010 elections, with Democrats expected to lose some seats and possibly even lose control of the House of Representatives.  This year, R stands for Revved up and D stands for Demoralized, so voter turnout could wind up as Carly’s secret weapon. 

Still, for Fiorina to take a Senate seat away from the Democrats, all of the chips will have to fall her way.  And she’ll need to moderate her positions – especially on the issue of abortion – with California’s electorate.