Sunday, November 15, 2009




Just as they have in her two previous reelection campaigns, once again this year Republicans and so-called experts list Barbara Boxer as one of the most vulnerable U.S. Senate Democrats running in next year’s mid-term election.

Maybe some of those estimates ought to be revised. A quick look at Boxer’s past election performances could easily be interpreted to demonstrate that she’s a lot stronger than most analysts realize, and growing stronger despite what some polls show.

Here are the results: In 1992, her first statewide election, Boxer beat prominent conservative talk show host Bruce Herschensohn by 4.9 percentage points. Running for reelection in 1998, she whipped former state Treasurer Matt Fong, a moderate Republican, by 10 points. Then, running in 2004 against the popular former California Secretary of State Bill Jones, she doubled that margin to about 20 points. Not so shabby for someone rated extremely beatable when the campaign began.

It’s easy enough to claim Boxer’s opponents were weak. But they were not. Herschensohn had higher name recognition before 1992 than Boxer’s. Fong had won his previous office by a wide margin. And Jones was the only Republican to win statewide office in what was otherwise a 1998 Democratic landslide; his Senate candidacy got strong backing from the then very popular Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. None of these men looked like weak sisters before the results were in.

Next year Boxer will apparently face either businesswoman Carly Fiorina or Orange County Assemblyman Chuck DeVore.

Some call it Boxer’s luck, but both Republican hopefuls carry heavy baggage.

Fiorina gets far more national press coverage than DeVore, and Texas Sen. John Cornyn, head of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, all but endorsed her even before she officially declared herself a candidate.

But Fiorina, like GOP gubernatorial hopeful Meg Whitman, has a long record of non-voting. One newspaper investigation found she’s voted in only six of 14 state elections since registering to vote in California, shortly after she took over as chief executive of computer maker Hewlett-Packard. Officials in New Jersey and Maryland, the two states where she lived for almost 20 years prior to that, could find no record of her ever voting.

The question she must answer is the same as the one asked of Whitman: How can someone with so little demonstrated interest in civics or government be trusted with key public policy decisions?

Then there’s her business record. Over the opposition of others in her firm and many outside analysts, she spearheaded H-P’s acquisition of the rival computer maker Compaq, which was based in Houston. Whether it was related to that takeover or the overall bust, H-P stock lost 60 percent of its value on her six-year watch. By contrast, it has more than doubled in four years under her successor.

Under her leadership (and she denies knowing about it), H-P sold hundreds of millions of dollars worth of high-tech materiel to Iran through a Middle Eastern agent, evading a U.S. ban on trade with that country.

Then there’s the fact she accepted a “golden parachute” valued at either $40 million, $42 million or $45 million (reports vary), after laying off more than 10,000 employees.

This all adds up to something like paradise for whatever media consultant Boxer might hire to make her TV commercials. Easy pickings. “So far,” observed Democratic campaign consultant Steve Maviglio, “she’s been an opposition researcher’s dream candidate.”

Then there’s DeVore, who some believe is running for the Senate because he’ll be termed out of his state Assembly seat next year and there are no seats in Congress or the state Senate readily available to him.

DeVore, a dogged advocate of building more nuclear power plants in California and elsewhere, is about as doctrinaire a conservative Republican as can be found. His Sacramento voting record gets a 100 percent rating from the state Chamber of Commerce. He favors large-scale oil drilling off the California coast, even in the Santa Barbara Channel, where a huge oil spill in 1968 sparked the worldwide environmental movement.

He proudly opposes all new taxes and any restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions. In short, he might be the ideal candidate in a Republican primary, where conservatives typically dominate, but many of his positions are anathema to a majority of California voters, if polls and voting results are an indication.

Which makes DeVore, too, a fat target for Boxer campaign commercials.

Is this just blind luck for Boxer, who less than a year ago expected Schwarzenegger would be her opponent? Maybe and maybe not. Barbara O’Connor, a Sacramento State University politics professor, observed to a reporter the other day that “Everyone underestimates Boxer…she is wickedly good at raising money and if the race gets close, deep pockets from the national Democratic Party could start pouring in.”

She’s also a dogged campaigner, enjoying the coffee klatches she stages in every corner of the state.

Boxer vulnerable? Maybe, but she’s demonstrated many times that she will never be a pushover.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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