Perfect Storm: Has Barbara Boxer Met Her Match?

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CALIFORNIA -- U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., is one of the many beltway veterans facing a Washington backlash this year.

This November, Sen. Boxer faces Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, one of the top female executives in the country. Fiorina could put an end to Boxer's long political career.

The Perfect Storm

This political year is one where new faces are in and old Washington establishment faces are being pushed out.

Now, along comes Fiorina. The former CEO carries no beltway baggage, and her performance as head of Hewlet-Packard gives her credibility where it's needed most: the economy.

In addition, she brings a new weapon in her fight with Boxer. In the past, the Senate Democrat has only faced challenges from men.

"Barbara Boxer cannot say to me that I do not understand the challenges women face," Fiorina told CBN News.

All of these elements could be the perfect storm for Fiorina, and they might be a torrential downpour for her opponent.

"Here's what I think. Barbara Boxer has never been held accountable for her record. I will," Fiorina responded when CBN News asked whether she's Boxer's worst nightmare.

Fiorina's Strategy

So what is Fiorina's strategy? She's going to try to handcuff Boxer's record directly to California's gasping economy. The state's unemployment rate is the country's third highest at more than 12 percent. 

Boxer wants to spend money to create jobs, while Fiorina argues that tax cuts are the way to go.

"(She) has never met a tax increase she didn't like," Fiorina said about her opponent at a recent campaign stop in Sacramento, Calif.

Boxer declined to talk to CBN News. She's traveling around the state working to convince anyone who will listen that the huge billion-dollar stimulus bill is creating jobs.

While that may play well in liberal cities like San Francisco, it's not playing well with Independent voters who have seen the unemployment rate increase since the stimulus bill went into effect.

That could be the key for Fiorina.

While the latest poll shows her leading Boxer by five points overall, that margin grows to a whopping 17 points among Independents.

"The key voters here in California this time are swing voters, and swing voters know her, they don't much like her, and they're tired of her," Fiorina told CBN News referring to Boxer.

Tough Road Ahead

Still, Fiorina has her work cut out for her. Voters are just getting to really know her, and Boxer is throwing jabs at her in the media.

In one recent interview, Boxer mentioned how Fiorina was "fired as CEO of Hewlett-Packard, laid off 30,000 workers, shipped jobs to China, and enriched herself during that time."

Fortunately for Fiorina, her time at HP appears to be old news to Californians. In this tough economic climate, voters seem focused on pocketbook issues, and that has Fiorina on the attack and Boxer on the ropes.

"We know we're going to get to better times, but this is a very deep though recession," the incumbent California senator explained. 

Going Out Swinging

Boxer is appropriately named because she's not going down without a fight. She's defending her liberal policies, and tells voters that a vote for Fiorina is a vote for former President George W. Bush's failed policies of the past. She points to Fiorina's support for offshore oil drilling, her pro-life views, and tax cuts for the rich.

Fiorina argues that letting the Bush tax cuts expire for wealthier Americans makes no fiscal sense.

"To raise taxes by a whopping $3.8 trillion in the middle of a recession is insanity," Fiorina said.

Fiorina is sticking to her message on jobs and out of control government spending. She is determined not to get caught up in the headline issues of immigration or California's Proposition 8 controversy. Politically, the issue could serve as a distraction from her economic message.

"The people of California have spoken very clearly on this issue…I'm not a legal expert, but my opinion is it will end up in the Supreme Court, and I think the people of California believe their votes count," Fiorina said.

Riding a Wave of Discontent

The struggling economy could be another reason the people of California show their belief in her and GOP candidates at the polls in November. The Republican Party in California and elsewhere hope that wave of discontent is enough to help sweep them into office.

"Right now, for a Republican candidate, this is a great year going into the 2010 November elections," said Damon Dunn, a first-time Republican candidate running for the job of California Secretary of State.
 
"Why? Because we have an unpopular president; we have high unemployment," he explained. "These are not things we like, but these are reasons why there needs to be a change in leadership."

Counting Her Blessings

Fiorina must win if Republicans have any chance of taking back the Senate. But Fiorina's life has consistently been about challenges.

Two years ago, she took on breast cancer. Now, fully recovered, she realizes the blessings that can come from a struggle like that.

"My family is stronger; my faith is stronger; I am stronger - and honestly it puts things in perspective," she told CBN News. "I have a lot of heart for this fight. It's important and nothing about this fight scares me after what I've been through."

*Original broadcast Sept. 2, 2010.

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David Brody is an Emmy Award-winning veteran news journalist who has interviewed many prominent national figures during his career of nearly 25 years. Currently, David covers the White House and interviews national newsmakers across the country.  Follow David on Twitter @TheBrodyFile and "like" him at Facebook.com/TheBrodyFile.