Saturday, May 22, 2010




Just about a month ago, one of the leading political rating services in Washington, D.C. lowered Barbara Boxer’s reelection status from “likely” to “leaning.” This was one indicator of the general and seemingly perpetual sense that the three-term Democratic U.S. senator is vulnerable.

Even at a Los Angeles dinner where President Obama helped raise $3 million for Boxer’s reelection drive, her vulnerability was the dominant theme.

One reason is that she has not been advertising, while all three of her would-be opponents have been on the air with commercials that constantly blast her "arrogance" and label her a “typical big-spending Democrat.” They often claim her strong environmental bent makes her an obstacle to job creation.

But those three Republicans – former Congressman and ex-Stanford Law School Prof. Tom Campbell, onetime Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina and termed-out Orange County Assemblyman Chuck DeVore – have vulnerabilities of their own. And longtime Boxer campaign manager Rose Kapolczynski has never been bashful about bashing her opponents.

Perhaps the most vulnerable of the GOP trio is Fiorina, fired by H-P’s board of directors in 2005. The labor unions at the core of Boxer’s support enjoy reminding reporters that Fiorina presided over layoffs of more than 20,000 workers when H-P took over the Houston-based Compaq computer firm, providing small severance. But when she was fired, they note, she took home a “golden parachute” often said to have amounted to $40 million.

But that’s the least of Fiorina’s problems in the dogfight for a seat in the Senate. During her tenure, Middle East agents of H-P illegally sold sophisticated electronics to Iran. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department along with German and Russian authorities are also now investigating whether H-P executives paid nearly $11 million in bribes to win a $47.5 million computer sales contract in Russia. Such a payment would violate federal laws prohibiting U.S. companies from bribing foreign officials.

Only rarely has a former executive of a company involved in such cases run for major office while the allegations were unsettled. And no one in that situation has ever been elected to a top office.

Fiorina strongly denies any knowledge of either alleged violation. And the company says that “To suggest Carly Fiorina or any other senior executive in Palo Alto (corporate headquarters) then or now was knowledgeable of these alleged activities is wrong and not supported by the facts.”

But if the actions took place and Fiorina didn’t know, as she and the company insist, there’s the question of whether her executive oversight was adequate.

Campbell, too, would have to deal with history if he’s the nominee. As often as he’s tried to explain it and apologize for it, there is no doubt he wrote a 2002 letter questioning whether a Florida university should fire an ethnically Arab professor who later pleaded guilty to providing goods and services for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group.

Less than a year before Campbell wrote that letter, NBC’s “Dateline” program aired videotape of the professor, Sami Al-Arian, proclaiming phrases like “Let us damn America” and “Victory to Islam” and “Death to Israel.”

Campbell, the most genteel of men, says he didn’t know of this before he wrote that letter and there’s no reason to doubt him. But the incident does raise questions about how much research he does before acting. The combination of the Al-Arian incident and an early spring anti-Campbell TV commercial in which the Iowa-based American Future Fund called him a pro-tax politician would surely eat into conservative enthusiasm for Campbell. No Republican can win in California without fired-up conservative backing.

DeVore would surely have that kind of support. But the reserve Army lieutenant colonel’s record in the Legislature has been so consistently hard-line conservative, opposing virtually all spending and environmental measures, that he would have trouble winning over the moderate Democrats and independent voters Republicans need to win top-of-the-ticket races in this state.

So yes, Boxer is vulnerable, as she is the first to admit she always is. But her potential opponents are probably no better off. Which means that no matter what any rating service might say, she’s still the clear favorite to win reelection.

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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