Boxer and Fiorina set for face-off

Carly Fiorina and Barbara Boxer have set their first debate, and judging by the campaigns’ progress, sparks are sure to fly. Indeed, the fact that the debates even got off the ground in the first place is cause for strong celebration, as two months ago, negotiations appeared to have stalled indefinitely.

After several successive attempts to set a meeting to negotiate the terms of the debate, the Fiorina campaign exasperatedly announced that it was willing to debate anywhere, but didn’t think that Boxer was actually interested in debating Fiorina at all, her avowals to the contrary notwithstanding.  Evidently that calculation was incorrect, as the debate now is scheduled to take place at St Mary’s College in the Bay Area.

The topics have not been announced yet, but based on recent trends in the news, they are likely to involve two topics about which Californians have a history of extremely strong opinions – namely, tax relief and gay marriage. 

Start with tax relief. In a recent interview, Fiorina stated that she thinks “There’s an uncertainty that’s hanging over our job creators and causing them to say, ‘I’m not sure. I can’t invest in the future and hire more people. I don’t know how much my tax bill is going to be in three months.’” Translation: Keep the tax cuts in or job growth isn’t going to start anytime soon. 

This message is less out-of-place than it might first appear in a blue state like California. Given that the tax revolts of the 70’s resulted in the simultaneously loved and loathed Proposition 13, and given also that tax relief is a popular subject on ballot initiatives, Fiorina’s line on this topic is very much in the mainstream of Californian political discourse, albeit on the rightmost end of that mainstream.

As such, in all likelihood the debate will be framed not around the broad question of whether the Bush tax cuts or the more maligned “Death tax” are worth repealing, but whether who should be the beneficiary of such a repeal. As Bakersfield.com reports, Boxer’s campaign has begun making this pre-emptive move already: 

     “Barbara Boxer supports eliminating the estate tax for 99.7 percent of Americans and extending the Bush tax cuts to 98 percent of Americans,’ said Rose Kapolczynski, her campaign manager. ‘Carly Fiorina is looking out for the wealthiest Americans like herself.” 

Californians should be prepared for a much more complete clash on this topic come the debate, and for a greater degree of class warfare-aligned rhetoric. 

As for gay marriage, this topic was only recently injected back into the discussion, and there are signs that neither Fiorina nor Boxer wants to tackle it. However, no moderator is going to be able to resist bringing up the topic, and Fiorina’s reputation as a hardline social conservative, whether deserved or not, is going to color how she answers a question dealing with Proposition 8. This could be either a moment of truth for her campaign or a Catch-22, and as such, Boxer will probably do all in her power to stake out a position to the Left of Fiorina on the issue, unless Fiorina stakes out that position first, which could cost her support from her base. 

Either way, Californians should look forward to this debate as a chance to see the personalities behind the campaigns, and also to see whether Boxer actually deserves to be credibly challenged, or whether Fiorina deserves to be seen as such a formidable challenger.

Break out the popcorn – it’s going to be quite a ride.