Yesterday afternoon, Barbara Boxer and Carly Fiorina sparred for the second time, albeit under slightly different circumstances, both politically and logistically. On the political side, this was clearly a time for Boxer to attempt to cement the developing lead she has been accruing over the past few weeks – a lead which has shifted the race from a “Toss Up” to one that Leans Democratic. This in contrast to the first debate, where Boxer and Fiorina were neck and neck in a race whose outcome was anybody’s guess. It is also worth noting that unlike the first debate, where the two women stood in the same room, this one was conducted from literal opposite poles of the country, with Boxer and Fiorina debating via satellite.
This latter shift appears to have had some impact, at least on the cordiality of the debate, which was noticeably lessened from its predecessor. Boxer was especially hard-edged in her criticism, going as negative as possible against Fiorina and stressing the challenger’s (in some quarters) controversial record on social issues. Fiorina, meanwhile, stayed true to her strategy in the first debate, and focused single-mindedly on blasting Boxer’s legislative record in the Senate. She appears to have been more successful at this, given that Boxer was thrown on the defensive and had to issue a number of disavowals that were hastily fact-checked away by the Fiorina campaign. In fact, near the beginning, Fiorina’s staffers sent out almost one fact check per minute on Boxer’s responses.
The nuclear bomb of the debate was probably the exchange on abortion between the two women. Boxer attacked Fiorina for (allegedly) wanting to criminalize abortion because Fiorina had said she would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.
"It means that women and doctors could be put in jail in any state of the union. That is the fact," Boxer said. "Roe v. Wade, I believe, is a decision that brings us all together."
On raw legal grounds, the argument wasn’t, strictly speaking, right, but it was a clever way to use the states’ rights argument that Fiorina’s conservative base enjoys against her in a state that’s not typically sympathetic to the idea of states’ rights. To people outside California, the argument that Roe v. Wade “brings us all together” might seem odd, but Boxer knew her audience well. Fiorina, for her part, batted the argument away competently, but looked a little evasive when she tried to pivot back to her area of competence – jobs and the economy.
Still, Boxer’s negative style got her into hot water, as evidenced by the usually sympathetic Los Angeles Times publishing a few sardonic responses to her comments. Most notably, they seemed to find Boxer’s hit on Fiorina’s corporate experience a little disingenuous, with Times writer Gabriel Lerner writing:
"Senator, excuse me. Ms. Fiorina is not running for the head of HP right now. She is running for the Senate and there is a big difference between running a company, where you have to make those choices, and running the government."
The winner of the debate is, as always, up for debate. However, one thing that should be noted is that Boxer did not look like a candidate who is running strong in the polls, even though she is. In fact, her performance lacked some of the gravitas one might expect from an incumbent who has reason to be optimistic. Fiorina, if her combative style holds through October, will only make hay out of Boxer’s hesitancy.