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Fiorina Returns to Campaign Trail in Bid to Unseat Boxer

October 28, 2010 at 5:54 PM EDT
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After a brief stay in the hospital, Republican candidate Carly Fiorina is back in campaign mode in the close California Senate race against Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer. Judy Woodruff talked to both of them during a visit to the Golden State.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: In California politics, Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina returned to the campaign trail today, after a brief hospital stay due to a post-surgical infection. Fiorina, who was treated last year for breast cancer, resumed her battle to unseat Barbara Boxer in the Golden State, where I caught up with both of them on the campaign trail earlier this week.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): How about waking up out there?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Third-term Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer often jokes that, because she’s small, she has to work harder. Indeed, elections have never come easy for the feisty Brooklyn-born politician.

But, this year, her challenge is even steeper than usual because of the lousy economy and especially because of the place where she works.

MARK BALDASSARE, Public Policy Institute of California: Because of the low approval ratings of Congress, because of the fact that, this year, Californians don’t feel that Congress is getting the job done, that’s what’s really working against Barbara Boxer.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Policy analyst and pollster Mark Baldassare says there’s nothing new about Boxer having approval ratings under 50 percent. Boxer herself concurs, as she makes the case for her reelection.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: My view is, if ever we needed a fighter in the Senate to fight for small business, not the huge corporate businesses that are, by the way, spending undisclosed, huge amounts of money against me, this is the time to have a fighter in there for the middle class.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What is new this year is that, in a state where Democrats hold a 13-point voter registration advantage, and which hasn’t sent a Republican to the Senate in over 20 years, Boxer’s conservative opponent has made it a real race.

CARLY FIORINA (R-Calif.), senatorial candidate: Twenty-eight years is long enough. Thank you very much, Barbara Boxer.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Former corporate executive Carly Fiorina burst on the political stage last year as a newcomer, after a splashy career in high-tech. Promising she knows how to create jobs in the Golden State, Fiorina stresses her business background.

CARLY FIORINA: I have been talking relentlessly about creating jobs, because that is what we need to do to heal this community and to move our state forward. But people also know that I have been talking relentlessly about cutting government spending, because government spending in Washington, D.C., is out of control.

JUDY WOODRUFF: She rose to CEO of Hewlett-Packard, but made controversial moves to outsource jobs overseas and ended up fired by the company’s board.

And Boxer hammers it in speeches and advertising.

WOMAN: Fiorina laid off 30,000 people.

WOMAN: And she shipped our jobs to China.

MAN: I had to pack my bags, and I was out the door that night.

WOMAN: We even had to train our replacements.

MAN: Fiorina never cared about our jobs, not then, and not now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Fiorina fights back with her own attack ads.

NARRATOR: Barbara Boxer failed to protect California jobs, praises the stimulus plan, while two-and-a-quarter-million Californians are unemployed, trillions in deficits, billions in taxes — the legacy of Barbara Boxer.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What Fiorina doesn’t emphasize in her advertising are her views on issues like offshore oil drilling, assault weapons, immigration, and abortion, positions to the right of the California mainstream, which earned an endorsement from Sarah Palin.

University of Southern California political scientist Jane Junn.

JANE JUNN, political scientist, University of Southern California: One of the things, interestingly, that she’s done in her campaign is move away from identifying herself as a Republican. Nowhere in the advertisement does Ms. Fiorina cite her party being the Republican Party.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But many Republicans in this state say they not only know Fiorina’s views; they’re excited at the prospect of sending someone to Washington who they believe will respond to them.

NINA MOURNING, Carly Fiorina volunteer: I really just became angry, because I felt that no one in Washington, D.C., was paying any attention to what I was feeling. I don’t think that the government should — the federal government, anyway — should be doing a lot of the things that they are doing. Their poking their business in I — what I think should be local issues.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Former real estate agent Nina Mourning, who said she had never before been active in politics, volunteered to help Fiorina in Sacramento County. It’s a part of the state she needs to do well in to make up for Boxer’s lead in the populous Democratic strongholds of Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area.

One congressional district that has swung both Democrat and Republican in the past and which went from Boxer the last time she ran is the 11th, home to the city of Tracy and on the edge of the agriculture-rich Central Valley. But what was once a thriving economy now has one of the highest home foreclosure rates in the country and a higher-than-average unemployment rate.

In Tracy, we met the owner of a music store, Ken Cefalo, a self-described moderate Republican who voted for Obama. But, in this election, he plans to support Fiorina, whom he hopes will put a stop to government spending.

KEN CEFALO, Carly Fiorina supporter: Unemployment keeps getting extended, to the point where it’s hard to hire part-time people. They don’t want to come to work because they’re making more money staying on unemployment.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ironically, Fiorina agrees with Democrats on this issue, that unemployment benefits should be extended.

At the popular Baristas Cafe, three friends, Athena Peterson, Joan Matthews, and Jackie Erceg, are enthusiastic about their support for Boxer.

JACKIE ERCEG, Sen. Barbara Boxer supporter: I am so happy with what Barbara Boxer has done. Almost exclusively, I like — I agree with her politically.

ATHENA PETERSON, Sen. Barbara Boxer supporter: We haven’t really given this new administration enough time, I don’t believe. I don’t think we need to make any real big changes right now.

JOAN MATTHEWS, Sen. Barbara Boxer supporter: In fact, Barbara Boxer has fought the good fight in Washington. And, if that doesn’t harden you, if you don’t develop the thickest skin in the world being a U.S. senator, I don’t know.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just down the street, florist shop owners Carol and Dallas (ph) Peterson told us they are longtime Boxer critics, who have already cast their absentee plats for Fiorina.

CAROL PETERSON, Carly Fiorina supporter: I never voted for Boxer. I don’t agree with one of her policies at — I just — I have disagreed with everything she has to say. They talk about conservatives being extreme. She is on the other end of the spectrum.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Despite Fiorina’s conservative views, she paints herself as someone who will cross party lines.

CARLY FIORINA: When bickering ends, solutions begin. I’m prepared to oppose my party when it’s wrong.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, on the stump, particularly in the Central Valley, where water shortages are a serious concern, Fiorina says she will work with the state’s other Democratic senator.

CARLY FIORINA: The first thing I will do as a U.S. senator is to go to the office of Dianne Feinstein and work with her to get the water turned back on in our Central Valley.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Earlier this week, Feinstein, who is Boxer’s campaign chair, joined her to tour a solar energy manufacturing plant in San Jose. Boxer took issue with Fiorina’s claim she will buck her party.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: We have tracked every single one of her positions on every single bill since she became a Senate candidate. She has not supported anything different than the Republican leadership.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And Feinstein dismissed any doubts about whom she prefers to work with.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-Calif.): This is the candidate I support. I wouldn’t be chair of her campaign unless I was 100 percent convinced that she is a fine United States senator for this state.

The election hasn’t taken place. I believe this is the senator that’s going to be reelected, and I believe that I will work, hopefully, with Barbara for the next six years.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Feinstein is not the only prominent Democrat who has been campaigning for Boxer. Both the president and first lady have been in California this past week.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: There’s only one candidate in this race who has spent her career fighting for California’s families. And that is Barbara Boxer.

(APPLAUSE)

BARACK OBAMA: There’s just one candidate who has done that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In an effort to capitalize on Obama’s relative popularity in California, Organizing for America volunteers in this South Los Angeles neighborhood were urging Obama supporters to vote on November 2.

ORGANIZING FOR AMERICA VOLUNTEER: We want to encourage you to, if you support President Obama, to support his allies.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Some of the voters they encountered, like 20-year-old Danielle Sauseto (ph), said they still weren’t sure about Boxer.

WOMAN: Yes.

ORGANIZING FOR AMERICA VOLUNTEER: Are you going to be voting?

WOMAN: Yes, I will.

ORGANIZING FOR AMERICA VOLUNTEER: Are you voting Democratic?

WOMAN: Yes.

ORGANIZING FOR AMERICA VOLUNTEER: Excellent. How about Barbara Boxer?

WOMAN: I’m not sure about that yet.

JUDY WOODRUFF: As Election Day draws close — and early voting is already in progress — both candidates are concentrating on turning out the voters they can count on. Fiorina was working the phones in Sacramento.

CARLY FIORINA: Hi, John. This is Carly. how are you doing?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Down to the wire, both candidates are making their case to voters.

CARLY FIORINA: Whether people are Democrats or independents or Republicans, they’re tired of career politicians, and they’re tired of career politicians because they see all this, you know, bickering going on, but nothing is getting done.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, I find it interesting, because she’s embraced John McCain, and he’s been in the Senate longer than I have.

I have a passion for this work. It’s my life’s work. My opponent demeans it. She says, oh, how could anyone do this for so long?

You know what, Judy? It’s what I wanted to do, and I’m blessed that the people have given me the chance.

JUDY WOODRUFF: With polls showing Boxer several points ahead, her margin depending on who turns out, analysts give her the advantage, but say the race is competitive.