October 12, 1998
Freshman Senator Barbara Boxer, one of the members of Congress elected in 1992's "Year of the Woman," appears to be in trouble. Polls put her trailing Republican Matt Fong by five points with three weeks left before the election. Jeffrey Kaye, of KCET-Los Angeles, reports on the race.
BARBARA BOXER: You are going to mobilize. You are going to organize. Can we count on you?
PEOPLE IN CROWD SHOUTING: Yes!
JEFFREY KAYE: While Democrat Barbara Boxer is counting on supporters to re-elect her, Republicans are counting on the real possibility of unseating the junior senator from California. Boxer is in a tight race against Republican State Treasurer Matt Fong.
MATT FONG, California State Treasurer: I want to take California forward. Barbara Boxer is looking at a rear view mirror, and she wants to take California back to the past.
JEFFREY KAYE: The Fong campaign expects to receive $3 million from the national Republican Party. Not only are Republicans trying to defeat one of Washington's most liberal senators, they hope to increase the GOP's 55 to 45 vote majority in the Senate.
BARBARA BOXER: In the United States Senate they are five votes away from destroying working people's rights.
JEFFREY KAYE: Boxer was elected to the Senate in 1992, the so-called year of the woman. She has established a record as an environmentalist, pro-labor, anti-war, abortion rights feminist.
BARBARA BOXER: I think you understand what's at stake in this election, regardless –
JEFFREY KAYE: In the past, Boxer spoke out forcefully against Republicans accused of sexual misconduct, but she was initially reluctant to criticize President Clinton for his behavior. The issue dogged the early stages of the race. Fong accused Boxer of hypocrisy.
MATT FONG: She has been unwilling to apply the same standard to her Democrat president that she did to Republicans.
JEFFREY KAYE: Boxer, whose daughter is married to Hillary Clinton's brother, has criticized the president, but she has been careful to couple her disapproval with political praise.
BARBARA BOXER: What the president did was wrong. I've been very clear about that. He, himself, has said it's wrong. Having said that, I don't think that in any way should cloud our vision of what he has done for this country, you know, especially in California, where we were in the darkest recession since the Great Depression. And in California, we've had 1.4 million new jobs created, 100,000 new businesses, and the first balanced budget in 30 years. It's a balanced budget with a heart.
The Republican Al Gore?
JEFFREY KAYE: While Boxer credits policies she's supported for improving the U.S. economy, Fong offers a classic conservative prescription for prosperity, lower taxes.
MATT FONG: Then help me get elected so I cannot only fight to lower them but to end the IRS as we know it and build a new 21st century tax code that stops punishing savings and investing by ending the capital gains tax and ending the death tax.
JEFFREY KAYE: Fong is a lawyer and former Air Force officer whose differences with Boxer reflect a classic liberal versus conservative match-up. Fong advocates a flatter tax rate and a stronger military.
MATT FONG: We need a national missile defense not to stop 20,000 missiles from Russia but to stop the one or two coming from terrorists.
JEFFREY KAYE: Fong supports a national missile defense program. That proposal – the successor to Star Wars – is a cornerstone of the National Republican Party's platform. Boxer opposes the program.
BARBARA BOXER: Remember Star Wars? It hasn't proved that it can work. We put billions of dollars into it, and we need to save that surplus for Social Security first.
JEFFREY KAYE: Boxer wants to raise the minimum wage. Fong disagrees. Fong is a low-key, somewhat stolid campaigner.
MATT FONG: Economist Magazine said that I was the Republican version of Al Gore.
JEFFREY KAYE: By contrast, Boxer delights in working up a crowd.
BARBARA BOXER: Matt Fong is wrong on taxes. Don't you think Fong is wrong? Fong is wrong.
CROWD SHOUTING: Fong is wrong! Fong is wrong!
the campaign trail.
JEFFREY KAYE: Notwithstanding the enthusiasm of Boxer's supporters, Mark Dicamillo, director of the California Field Poll, says in his most recent survey of likely voters, Fong pulled slightly ahead of Boxer.
MARK DI CAMILLO, Field Poll: Overall, the movement of voters is moving toward Fong, as with each succeeding poll. They're seeing larger proportions of voters becoming aware of Matt Fong. I think he's positioned himself as a moderate, which is where most elections in California are decided.
JEFFREY KAYE: DiCamillo says Boxer has polarized voters.
MARK DI CAMILLO: Democrats generally have a very positive view of Boxer; Republicans generally have a very negative view of Boxer. And so with a race like the Boxer/Fong race in a very highly partisan, highly charged turnout, it really will depend on whether the Democrats show up in greater proportions, or will the Republicans show up in greater proportions?
JEFFREY KAYE: DiCamillo and other pollsters say many Democrats discouraged by the president's problems may not vote. Boxer is trying to counter such speculation.
BARBARA BOXER: We need to make sure that the pundits are wrong and we have the biggest get-out-the-vote effort this state has ever seen. So will you stay with me?
JEFFREY KAYE: To shore up her base of support, Boxer is campaigning among her core constituencies -- women, minorities, and labor groups. She and Fong are portraying each other as extreme.
MATT FONG: I think California's families are right in the middle and Barbara Boxer's far to the left.
AD SPOKESMAN: This is Matt Fong. He's the gun lobby's favorite candidate for the Senate.
JEFFREY KAYE: But the Boxer campaign is attacking Fong for his positions on hot button issues for loyal Democrats – gun control and abortion rights.
BARBARA BOXER: Matt Fong is anti-choice. He said on national television Roe V. Wade, which is the law that gives women the right to choose, he said Roe V. Wade was wrongly decided.
JEFFREY KAYE: But Fong, who considers himself politically moderate, says he is not entirely anti-choice.
MATT FONG: She's distorting the record. I have come out very clearly and on the first trimester that I respect a woman's right to choose, and that I would not vote for an amendment overturning Roe V. Wade.
JEFFREY KAYE: Fong opposes federal funding of abortion. On gun control he supports a ban on assault weapons but opposes additional gun control legislation. Instead, he prefers harsher penalties for criminals who use guns. Fong, who is Chinese-American, is courting the Asian-American vote.
MATT FONG: I just wanted to bring good news to our Asian-American community that the race is doing fine.
JEFFREY KAYE: Asian-Americans account for only 5 percent of the California vote. But Fong campaign consultant, Sal Russo, says they could make the difference in such a close race.
SAL RUSSO: I think because the community is so motivated, because of their pride in Matt's success, that their turnout is going to be higher than other demographic groups. That's going to be a crucial couple of points that we're going to have at the end.
JEFFREY KAYE: Many Asian-American Democrats are crossing party lines to support Republican Fong, among them former California Secretary of State March Fong Eu. Eu is also Matt Fong's mother. She says she supports her son not just out of family pride – like many other Asian-American activists – she believes he would be more sensitive to complaints that the government scapegoated Asian-American campaign contributors after the 1996 election.
MARCH FONG EU, former California Secretary of State: They had had FBI agents knock at their door, unannounced, asking them questions like: Are you a U.S. citizen? Why did you make the political contribution? What a frightening experience for many Asian-Americans who are politically involved for just the first time.
JEFFREY KAYE: But Boxer is not conceding the Asian-American vote and has received prominent endorsements. Despite the polls in one aspect of the race, she leads, while the Matt Fong campaign expects to raise 8 to 9 million dollars overall, Boxer says she is anticipating a 15 million dollar war chest.