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The Most Important Race of 2010

If Fiorina beats Boxer, liberalism will suffer a grievous defeat

Oct 18, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 05 • By FRED BARNES
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Boxer’s specialty is citing unverifiable and highly improbable numbers to back up her positions. She flings them out like confetti. The relatively innocuous bill passed last month to aid small businesses will create “500,000 to a million new jobs,” she said in her first and only televised, face-to-face debate with Fiorina. She also said she’s “fighting hard to make California a hub of a new clean energy economy and the millions of jobs that go with it.” Millions!

She has “many ideas” for reducing the budget deficit. Ending the war in Afghanistan “will be a trillion dollars,” she said in the radio debate. “Collecting from people who are ripping off the government and other uncollected payments to the government is another trillion dollars. Stopping tax breaks to the millionaires and the billionaires .  .  . that’s almost another trillion. So you go on and on.” Saving trillions!

Barbara Boxer does go on and on—10 years in the House seat north of San Francisco and 18 years in the Senate, where she replaced another liberal warhorse, Alan Cranston. Having won reelection in 2004 over Republican Bill Jones in a landslide, she appears to be an immovable object in California politics.

Appearances can deceive. In each of her three previous Senate races, there was a moment when Republicans thought they would defeat her. In 1992, the supposed electoral “year of the woman,” she benefited from a weak showing in California by the first President Bush and a calculated leak late in the campaign that Bruce Herschensohn, her Republican foe, had patronized a strip club. She won with 48 percent of the vote. Six years later, Boxer defeated state treasurer Matt Fong after he stumbled on the abortion issue, twice shifting his position. She won, 53-43 percent. In 2004, Jones’s challenge faded quickly. Boxer won, 58-38 percent.

From 48 percent to 53 percent to 58 percent—Boxer’s trajectory is impressive. It’s also misleading. Her negatives—40-plus percent of Californians view her unfavorably—have remained stable. She did herself no good last year when she chastised Brigadier General Michael Walsh at a Senate hearing for calling her “Ma’am” instead of “Senator.” Boxer said she called Walsh later to see if he was upset or owed an apology. “No, not at all,” she quoted him as saying. But what did she expect him to say to a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, whose influence on military issues could be crucial? 

And she’s always managed to make her opponent the issue, not her own record. “She’s been a very lucky politician,” says Stu Spencer, the famed strategist who’s advising Fiorina.

In 2010, things are different. The first is Fiorina. She is the most attractive and best financed candidate Boxer has faced. Fiorina, 56, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, articulates the free-market alternative to liberal, statist economic policies better than any candidate I’ve seen this year. Her experience as a highly visible corporate executive in Silicon Valley has made her a poised candidate, a natural, though it’s her first run for office. This is a surprise, since ex-CEOs are usually poor candidates.

The “anti-incumbent, anti-Washington, antigovernment feeling,” as Spencer calls it, has produced a Republican tailwind, the likes of which Boxer has never encountered as a candidate. Her record is now an issue, big-time.

Fiorina benefits as well from Meg Whitman’s campaign for governor against Jerry Brown. Whitman, the former boss of eBay, not only has spent more than $100 million, but she’s funding much of the ambitious get-out-the-vote effort for Republicans. She is wooing the moderate center, while Fiorina “appeals to the [Republican] base more than anyone else on the ticket,” says Kevin McCarthy, the chief deputy whip for House Republicans. “To me, that brings synergy to both.”

The Boxer-Fiorina race is the single most important and symbolic event of the 2010 campaign. Republicans don’t require a Fiorina victory to gain 10 seats and take control of the Senate. But Boxer has a special status. She’s the epitome of 21st-century liberalism run amok. The aftershock of her ouster would be shattering. “It would have a tectonic effect as the Democrats sift through the rubble of the 2010 campaign,” says Ken Khachigian, the Republican consultant and speechwriter.

Three questions about Fiorina and her campaign remain. Does she have the moxie to stand up to a fusillade of vilification from Boxer? Can a pro-life conservative win a top-of-the-ticket race in the thoroughly blue state of California? And is Fiorina disciplined enough to keep the campaign focused on Boxer?


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