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Requiem for a Lightweight

The final days of Barbara Boxer?

Mar 22, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 26 • By K.E. GRUBBS JR.
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DeVore, a retired lieutenant colonel in the National Guard and a onetime aide to the late defense secretary Caspar Weinberger, has been a fixture in Orange County politics for more than two decades. (Disclaimer: He and his picture-perfect family are longtime friends of the writer and the writer’s wife, having shared holiday dinners and church pews.) Though a vice president of an aerospace firm, he has spent much of that time in pursuit of elected office.

Arriving in Sacramento in 2004, DeVore quickly became a leading conservative figure, promoting nuclear power and offshore drilling, pushing prison reform, holding the line against taxes. On Valentine’s Day 2009, to the consternation of the governor and the GOP leadership, DeVore resigned his position as chief Republican whip in protest of a $12 billion per year tax increase.

A thoughtful student of history who’s even tried his hand at fiction (he coauthored a novel about a Chinese invasion of Taiwan), DeVore has everything one could want in a U.S. senator, including a Churchillian anecdote about being shot at in Lebanon. He found a brainy communications director named Josh Trevino, who has been trying to position DeVore as the Scott Brown of California.

California, as purple as Massachusetts, does enjoy a renegade history, from Hiram Johnson’s progressives to Howard Jarvis’s tax revolt, and indeed the taxpayers’ association created by Prop 13’s late, curmudgeonly author has endorsed DeVore. The question arises: Does his perpetual pursuit of political office translate into a virtual incumbency, a liability even for so principled a figure?

Enter Tom Campbell, a former congressman from Silicon Valley who’s taught law at Stanford and served as dean of UC Berkeley’s business school. Campbell has sought the same Senate seat before, losing a primary in 1992 to the sainted conservative TV commentator Bruce Herschensohn, who then lost to Boxer.

Campbell, appointed state finance director by Schwarzenegger, appeals to blue voters with his centrist positions on abortion and same-sex marriage. But he suffers from his association with the administration’s handling of the state’s cash. He suffers as well from a perception of opportunism, having come lately from the governor’s race—where he had no hope against the Whitman and Poizner fortunes.

A few days ago the three Senate candidates came together to debate for the first time on Eric Hogue’s Sacramento radio program. His voice quavering and defensive, Campbell spent a chunk of the hourlong event demanding an apology from Fiorina, whose aide Marty Wilson was alleged to have called him anti-Semitic in a private conversation, a charge Wilson stoutly denies. The opening gave Fiorina and DeVore a chance to highlight Campbell’s inconsistent support for Israel and his dubiously cordial relations with Sami Al-Arian, the Florida professor who pleaded guilty to helping terrorists.

For his part, DeVore tried to clobber Fiorina with what looks like over-imaginative opposition research (which may have originated with the Boxer camp). When she headed H-P, goes the accusation, Fiorina allowed another company, tied to H-P contractually, to sell computer equipment to Iran. Turns out, the product was printer ink, not exactly coming under strict export control.

Barbara Boxer can take little comfort from these early round fisticuffs thrown amongst her opposition. A mid-January Rasmussen survey showed her with 46 percent of all California voters against any of the three Republicans. Campbell, then the new entrant, had 42 percent; Fiorina, 43 percent; DeVore, 40 percent. A Field Poll (which historically skews left) taken of likely GOP voters at roughly the same time showed Campbell with 30 percent, Fiorina with 25 percent, and DeVore with 6 percent. Campbell has since damaged himself in the debate.

It’s eight months before the general election, and Californians are restive. Republicans in the state are both anxious about the economy and emboldened by Boxer’s new vulnerability. A Tea Party could get under way, and either DeVore or a freshly combative Fiorina could come across as the next Scott Brown. And Barbara Boxer, despite being a three-term incumbent, could crumble like the Parthenon.

K.E. Grubbs Jr. is a Washington-based writer.

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