Last night, the two candidates for California’s US Senate seat squared off in the first of their debates this election season. From the angle of getting on-topic answers out of the candidates, the debate was almost an exercise in utter futility, with both Boxer and Fiorina frequently going off topic to repeat campaign talking points in a manner not altogether un-reminiscent of Sarah Palin in the 2008 Vice Presidential debate. Still, mature campaign themes emerged from the event, digressions notwithstanding, and so the event was altogether worth voters’ time, if for different reasons than intended.
Fiorina began the debate by pointing out that she had “lived the American dream,” and pointed to her record as a reason why she should be elected over Boxer. “The results of [Boxer’s] policies are devastating for this state,” Fiorina said. “Barbara Boxer may say she is fighting for Californians, but the truth is she is fighting for another six years in Washington, DC.”
Boxer riposted, “I’ve been able to enact a thousand provisions – for our children, the first ever after-school program, for our veterans, the first ever casual care center for our wounded warriors.” Boxer also claimed that she was trying to make California “the hub of the new energy economy,” before taking a shot at Carly Fiorina for shipping jobs overseas as a fired executive. “That reminds me of Wall Street,” Boxer said.
The moderators did not do a particularly strong job of appearing objective. The first question for Fiorina explicitly charged her with caring more about the wealthiest people than average Californians, in precisely those terms, whereas the first question for Barbara Boxer simply asked whether the Iraq War was worth the cost. The moderators also gave Boxer extra time to answer a follow-up on the second question, rather than letting Fiorina get in her resonse.
Fiorina handled the first question handily by pointing out that the middle class was the greatest recipient of largesse from the Bush tax cuts. Boxer, however, accused Fiorina of not caring about children because she had opposed a jobs bill for teachers on the same question. Where the second question was concerned, Boxer claimed that she “believed in nation helping, not nation building,” before claiming that Afghanistan was the proper battleground, rather than Iraq.
Fiorina snapped that Boxer’s answers were a classic example of “rhetoric, rather than reality,” pointing out that Boxer voted against body armor, extended family leave and other pro-troop bills so frequently that even Joe Biden attacked her.
Fiorina, however, also took an interesting stance on the DREAM Act, a bill which conservatives loathe for allegedly extending amnesty to everyone under 16. Fiorina described the bill as an issue of fairness, saying it wasn’t right to punish children for what their parents did, and accusing Boxer of destroying a compromise on immigration reform. Boxer riposted that Fiorina would want immigrants to be deported.
Other questions dealt with Fiorina’s job efforts, Boxer’s long period in office, and the two candidates’ stances on gun rights aboard aircraft. A more detailed recap is available here. The debate’s result is still a work in progress, but one key point should be made – the stylistic differences were stark. Fiorina is clearly peddling herself as a tough talker who doesn’t sugarcoat her stances, whereas Boxer is selling herself as a much more genial, rhetorically-oriented candidate. The contrast is almost impossible to make more stark.