Friday, January 15, 2010
A high-profile U.S. Senate race began in San Diego this week. Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer and Republican challenger Carly Fiorina both held campaign events in town. What's at stake in this Senate contest? And, why did the candidates visit San Diego early on in the race?
GLORIA PENNER (Host): Well, this week San Diego was the destination for two high profile candidates for the United States Senate who are getting their campaigns into gear for the June primary, Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer and Republican Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett Packard. So Alisa, Barbara Boxer probably doesn’t have too much to worry about in the Democratic primary. Why make the trip to San Diego at this point?
ALISA JOYCE BARBA (Western Bureau Chief, National Public Radio): Well, you know what, it’s clear that the campaign is already beginning. I think that Boxer’s priority is to point out to the people of California, people of San Diego, that she has been instrumental in bringing stimulus funds to San Diego and to other parts of California, that she’s an important player in Washington and that she can bring, you know, bring the money home. That’s why she’s here.
PENNER: And she’s already feeling the heat of the competition, is that it?
BARBA: Yeah, I – I doubt it. I mean, I can’t tell you whether – I don’t think Boxer’s feeling the heat. I don’t think she has a whole lot – I don’t think she’s feeling like she has a whole lot to worry about though, at the same time, there are Washington political pundits and insiders who are seeing her seat as a little bit in contest than it ever has been before because they do see Carly Fiorina as a legitimate contender, as a legitimate competition for her.
PENNER: Well, then we have Fiorina. She’s a multi-millionaire, David, competing with conservative Orange County Assemblyman Chuck Devore for the primary, and, as of yesterday, former Congressman Tom Campbell. So let’s start with Devore. This early in the campaign, can we tell if this man, who has conservative credentials, will find the conservative credentials an advantage in this race?
DAVID ROLLAND (Editor, San Diego City Beat): I think the primary is going to be really kind of maybe even more interesting than the general election. I guess it depends on who emerges from the primary to, you know, to assess, you know, how interesting the general will be. But, yeah, Devore, I think he has a lot of the California Republican establishment in his camp. The question is, you know, will he be seen as viable financially against Barbara Boxer, who will have a large campaign war chest, and that’s – frankly, that’s the only reason Carly Fiorina is even a player here is because she has a ton of money. But, you know, her problem is going to be, I think, you know, when some – when people start attacking her, her voting record is going to become a huge deal and probably will – will out…
BARBA: What voting record? What voting record is that?
ROLLAND: Yeah, exactly. She has – she doesn’t have much of a voting record and that’s going to be – that’s going to be both a problem in the primary and the general. Both the Republicans and the Democrats will come after her on that.
PENNER: But maybe she has some appeal, Tom York. I mean, maybe the appeal of, let’s say, a Sarah Palin.
TOM YORK (Contributing Editor, San Diego Business Journal): Well, at the risk of sounding anti-feminist, I think that Carly Fiorina has a great deal of sex appeal. And I say that…
ROLLAND: You lie.
YORK: Well, she does because, you know, ten, twelve years ago, I was at Comdex in Las Vegas when Carly Fiorina was first appointed to run Hewlett Packard. And she was walking through the convention center there and she had an entourage of cameras and reporters and she was the media star of that event or at least one of the media stars of that event, and I think that there’s a lot of interest in her simply because she’s very dynamic. She was somewhat successful at Hewlett Packard. And I think she has a pretty good track record in the business world, so she does have what I would call sex appeal.
PENNER: And let’s hear what Jonathan in University Heights has to say about the race. Jonathan, you’re on with the editors.
JONATHAN (Caller, University Heights): Yeah, good morning. I’m a registered Democrat but I would vote in a heartbeat for Tom Campbell because we need a viable two-party system and he’s the type of Republican who, while he doesn’t hold a lot of views that I hold as a Democrat, he’s certainly not a knee-jerk, rightwing, tea party type. But my fear is now that he and Fiorina will probably split whatever Republican moderate vote there is in the primary and Devore will become their candidate against Boxer and Devore won’t stand a chance against Boxer. You can talk about a trend toward Republicanism but Devore’s the type of Republican who cannot win in California.
PENNER: All right, so, Alisa, let’s clarify a little bit about what Jon was saying. Where do – We’re kind of focusing on the Republican candidates now because, honestly, it doesn’t look as though Barbara Boxer’s going to have an opponent in the primary, not yet anybody – nobody’s stepped up to the plate. But where do they stand on the issues? I mean, we hear that somebody is a fiscal conservative and somebody is a social conservative. Help us out here.
BARBA: Well, I mean, they’re all three Republicans. They’re all three fiscal conservatives. They’re all three running on the platform that, you know, Washington is a mess and they’re spending too much money and we’re running up deficits and no new taxes and too many government programs, healthcare reform is a mistake. I mean, fiscal conservative all the way across the line. Chuck Devore is – he’s been labeled a tea party activist. He’s a red meat Republican. He’s socially conservative. He’s – He appeals to that aspect or that part of the Republican Party in California which has always been there, which is very strong, which is, you know, very well represented in San Diego, in Irvine, in Southern California. Very conservative socially, conservative fiscally.
PENNER: All right, just to bring it down to essentials, we’re talking about anti-abortion, pro-gun and anti-same sex marriage.
BARBA: Right, pro-Prop 8.
BARBA: So that would be Chuck Devore. Tom Campbell, who just is a late joiner in this race, he’s a fiscal conservative but he is actually socially somewhat liberal. He is a pro-choice voter. He opposed Proposition 8. That’s what I know about him. That’s why he would appeal to a lot of socially moderate, fiscally conservative Republicans. Carly Fiorina, sex appeal notwithstanding, she is a fiscal conservative and very much running on that, on those lines, but she’s also a social conservative. She is a pro-life voter and she is a – she voted for Prop 8, Proposition 8, so she is – but she is much more moderate than Chuck Devore. I’m not quite sure where that is but that’s what she’s viewed as, seen as much more appealing. And just to follow up on what Tom was saying, the Republican establishment in Washington have definitely picked out Fiorina as the next Sarah Palin.
ROLLAND: Which Democrats might like because the road is – the California’s political road is littered with wealthy business type candidates who never went anywhere.
YORK: Well, at the risk of disclosure, I have to confess that my son’s grandfather was a constituent worker for Barbara Boxer when she was a U.S. Rep and I just knew her briefly. She’s a formidable candidate. I just don’t see her being beaten by anybody at this point. So this is all kind of like moving deck chairs around on the Titanic.
PENNER: But, Tom, is the 800 pound gorilla in this race the president and the changing national attitude toward him? I mean, if, you know, his popularity’s dropping, people are concerned about the bailout money for banks. They’re a little worried about the health reform overhaul, not really being to their taste. I mean, could this changing national attitude drag Boxer down?
YORK: I don’t think so. I see Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein as two of the most powerful figures in the Senate. And I think that that patina of power just protects them from these flies kind of buzzing around right now, these…
ROLLAND: I just wanted to throw a little fun fact out there. Did you know that only five people have served in Barbara Boxer’s seat since 1939?
PENNER: What does that tell you?
ROLLAND: That change doesn’t come around to this seat very often.
PENNER: I think that that is a definitely important thing. The…
ROLLAND: And only two since 1969, I think, when Alan Cranston was elected.
PENNER: Well, do you think then, Alisa, finally, are Republicans tuned in to this race since perhaps people feel that Boxer is not vulnerable?
BARBA: Well, I can’t really speak as a Republican, frankly, but I can say that I think there is a lot of interest – certainly, there would always be a lot of interest. I think that there’s a lot of anger out there among people who do not like Obama, do not like Obama’s policies. Whether you call them Republican or Independents, there’s anger, there’s frustration, there’s certainly a desire to bring some new voices into the play so, you know, I think – you know, but you just run into the same problem the Republicans have had in California forever. You got the rightwing and then you got the moderates and they’re going to split it and they’re not going to come out strong.
PENNER: One last comment from you, Tom? Short.
YORK: Well, I was going to say there’s nothing – You know, I voted for Obama. I’m a Republican. And I don’t probably agree with him on any one issue but, on the other hand, he’s a very, very smart man and I think that it was time to have a very, very smart man in the White House and I think this anger is on the part of a very small minority. I think most people are very happy with what he’s been doing.
PENNER: Well, thank you very much. Tom York, San Diego Business Journal, Alisa Joyce Barba, NPR News, and David Rolland, San Diego CityBeat. Thanks to our listeners and our callers. Remember, you can comment at KPBS.org/editors. This has been the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner.