Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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Boxer-Fiorina Debate Expectations

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Fiorina, Boxer . . . fight night?

More times than not, pre-Labor Day debates are much ado about nothing. Voters aren’t paying attention. Election Day isn’t for another two months.

That said, tonight’s one-hour, televised face-off between U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and Republican challenger Carly Fiorina (7 p.m. starting time here on the Left Coast) is compelling viewing, if you’re a political aficionado. Here’s why:

1) It’s the first time the women share the same stage, which makes this a refreshing change of pace from two campaigns talking past each other, and talking primarily to their ideological bases. One never knows what happens when the conversation becomes up close and personal.

2) Neither candidate seems to have much personal respect for her opponent — witness Fiorina’s pot shot at Boxer’s coif; and Boxer’s determination to portray the pioneering Fiorina as a failed CEO.

3) Can both sides resist the temptation to go to the dark side? For Boxer, that’s trying to palm off Fiorina as Sarah Palin sans designer specs. For Fiorina, it’s the temptation to call the senator “ma’am”.

We got a preview of Boxer’s message yesterday in a speech at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club. Not necessarily in this order, it’s:

1) Stand by her votes for TARP and the stimulus package;

2) Talk up the good old days and Clinton-era economic growth; talk down the Bush years and Republican control of Washington;

3) Get the inside track of the environment by touting the virtue of clean energy, all the while portraying Fiorina an a drill-happy extremist;

4) Defend the idea of Big Bucks Big Government by talking infrastructure, jobs, economy.

As for Fiorina, making the case against Boxer is a little more complicated. Again, a good reason to tune in.

1)  Does she talk ideology, suggesting that Boxer is too liberal and too far from the political mainstream? That’s a tricky maneuver in a state in which there is something like 2.3 million more registered Democrats than registered Republicans, and a pro-lifer hasn’t won a top-of-the-ticket race since the first President Bush in 1988.

2) Does she talk stature — how Boxer casts a tiny shadow in the Senate not because she’s stands a little more than 5 feet in height, but because she carries little clout within the chamber.  The Boxer highlight reel would include the famous exchange with the general; the march on Bob Packwood. It wouldn’t include much in the way of signature policy achievements — or didn’t you notice how her fellow Democrats shoved her aside as the voice and face of cap-and-trade?

3) Does Fiorina talk national dynamics, trying to yoke Boxer to the prevalent anti-Washington, anti-incumbent mood?

A return of the "Hindenboxer"?

4) Or does she do something gonzo, in the vein of the infamous “Demon Sheep” and “Hindenboxer” ads?

Here’s what I’m looking for: which candidate does a better job of looking straight in the camera and making herself flesh and blood.

In theory, this is Fiorina’s chance to shine. She can talk about navigating the male business world, her bout with breast cancer — and an abortion stance that’s intensely personal.

And Boxer?

It’s the first time in nearly two decades that she’s run for the Senate absent a cozy tailwind.  It’s not 1992, when the national GOP wrote off California and killed turnout. It’s not 1998, with Gray Davis run 20 points ahead of Dan Lungren. Nor is it 2004 and a presidential election that was nowhere to be found in California.

In this election, Boxer can’t play the gender card. She can and will try the values card on the environment and abortion (treading light on the latter). But she’d better think about how to sell it as a real person — not as an officeholder, with a very shaky grip on her office.

BTW, here in the Bay Area, the debate is followed by two hours of MasterChef. And here I thought the food fight always came after the cooking was done . . .


Written by Bill Whalen

September 1, 2010 at 7:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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