Skip to main content









Donation Heart Ribbon

Political Analysis: The Boxer-Fiorina US Senate Race


As part of ongoing election coverage on KPBS, we profile the race for the US Senate in California. Incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer and Republican challenger Carly Fiorina have met for two debates and expressed very different views on subjects like health care and immigration reform. KPBS Political correspondent Gloria Penner examines the sharp contrasts between these two candidates.

As part of ongoing election coverage on KPBS, we profile the race for the US Senate in California. Incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer and Republican challenger Carly Fiorina have met for two debates and expressed very different views on subjects like health care and immigration reform. KPBS Political correspondent Gloria Penner examines the sharp contrasts between these two candidates.


Gloria Penner, KPBS Political Correspondent and host of Editors Roundtable and San Diego Week.

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. The November midterm election is less than a month away, and we're stepping up our election coverage here on KPBS. One of the most important state wide races in California is for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Barbara Boxer. Democrat and three term incumbent, Senator Boxer, is being challenged by political newcomer, former CEO, Hewlett Packard president, and Republican, Carly Fiorina. KPBS political correspondent, Gloria Penner, is here to outline some of the major points of contrast between these two candidates and there are many. Good morning, Gloria.

GLORIA PENNER: Good morning. Happy election, Maureen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you. Now, we invite our listeners to join the conversation. How are you making your decision between Barbara Boxer and Carly Fiorina? Give us a call, 1 888 895 5727. Let's start off, Gloria, by talking about the back and forth TV campaign ads that we're seeing in the Boxer and Fiorina contest. The Boxer campaign alleges Fiorina outsourced thousands of jobs while she ran HP. Is that a fair statement.

GLORIA PENNER: And a lot of people will be making their decision based on what these ads say. And here's what the announcer in Senator Boxer's ad says. "As CEO of HP, Carly Fiorina laid off $30,000 workers. Fiorina shipped jobs to China, and while Californians lost their jobs, Fiorina tripled her salary, bought a million dollar yacht and five corporate jets." So that's the contention there.

Okay. So did she actually lay off 30000 workers? She doesn't dispute that. In an informational interview that she gave a couple of years ago she said she did this because she was combining two teams into one. And that she was able to decrease the cost structure by billions of dollars. So she's not been shy about acknowledging that many jobs were outsourced over seas. In fact she told Congress there's no job that is America's God given right anymore. And it's also true that the net was that she created jobs, at least according to her. So the question is, is what she said or the Boxer ad said true? And according to, and they do fact checking, a company as large as HP is very dynamic, but it doesn't cancel the fact that 30,000 workers lost their jobs. So they rate the claim mostly true.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Fiorina's ads are very different. They show a clip of Barbara Boxer asking to be called senator instead of ma'am by a witness at a senate hearing. What is that supposed to show?

GLORIA PENNER: Well, it's a pretty straightforward 30 second ad, and it portrays Boxer as an arrogant, career politician, caught up in her own importance after three decades in congress. It opens with a clip of Boxer at a senate hearing in June, 2009, saying to brigadier General, Michael Walsh, "Do me a favor. Could you say 'Senator' instead of 'ma'am'? It's just a thing. I worked so hard to get that title, so I'd appreciate it. Yes, thank you."

And then the ad cut to the Fiorina who simply says, "28 years in Washington and Barbara Boxer works hard for a title?" Boxer calls the exchange with Walsh overblown she says she spoke to him afterwards and he took no offense. And she also said it was a formal hearing, and it was appropriate that she be addressed as senator, just as she addressed Walsh as general.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Barbara Boxer and Carly Fiorina have met for two debates where they've clashed on several issues, and one one that might be surprising is about abortion because that hasn't within much of an issue this particular election cycle. Tell us about that.

GLORIA PENNER: Well, abortion has become a contentious issue between the two candidates with Boxer accusing Fiorina of supporting the or turn Roe v. Wade, and although Fiorina dismissed the idea as preposterous, Boxer said overturning Roe v. Wade means that women and dollars could be put in jail in any state of the union and Boxer said that's a fact. Now, this is what Fiorina had to say about that.

NEW SPEAKER(AUDIO CLIP): Barbara Boxer engages frequently in a shocking misrepresentation of my record, but nowhere is that more unconscionable than her continued assertion that I support the criminalization of abortion. She knows very well that this is not true. There are no circumstances under which a woman in California would be denied an abortion. She knows this very well. Barbara Boxer is engaging in this kind of misrepresentation to change the subject, to change the subject from her own extreme views which are that a baby doesn't have rights until it leaves the hospital..."

GLORIA PENNER: Well, you know, Barbara Boxer did just to down play her support for taxpayer supported abortions, and Fiorina tried to highlight boxer's proabortion record during a tenure in Washington. Fiorina called Boxer an extremist for supporting the use of taxpayers' money to pay for abortions any time for any reason. But this is typical politic, when people want to talk about the issues that matter most to them, they occasionally will exaggerate. Boxer said that she supports the Hyde Amendment. And the Hyde Amendment is a legislative provision barring the use of certain federal funds to pay for abortions but she actually did make the motion to kill it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: : Now, this is a little confusing though because Carly Fiorina has said on a number of occasions that she would support the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. So is it now that Carly Fiorina has softened her view on abortion?

GLORIA PENNER: Well, she certainly is conditioning it for the political scene during election time. At this point, she is saying that, you know, Roe v. Wade stands. Now, what happens if she does become a senator and what her power might be to affect any change is questionable.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, moving onto the subject of the environment. Carly Fiorina accuses Barbara Boxer of being funded by extremist environmental groups has she said which groups she's talking about.

GLORIA PENNER: Well, during that debate though, we're talking about the la opinion and KPCC, she was asked three times to name the groups I went over the transcript and I counted the number of times and the closest she came was to say, I think the point here is not what various organizations have in their charters. I think the point here is what is it that senator believes she's supposed to be doing in Washington. And she accuses Boxer of caring more about endangered species than central valley farmers. This is important because the central valley farmers and Republicans are Fiorina's base, and there are lots of independents in the central valley as well. And there is an attempt to get independents to vote Republican this time around of she needs to pull them all in. And water politics is sensitive in California. Especially around people who rely on water to make a living. So Boxer needs to neutralize the lost farmer vote by appealing to the coastal environments. And she struck a sore point with with this argument. This is what Boxer said when she attacked Fiorina on the environment.

NEW SPEAKER(AUDIO CLIP): "Just take our coast. Our coast is pristine as it is. It supports 40,0000 jobs in recreation, in tourism, in fishing. My opponent would actually open up federal waters to drilling even after the BP nightmare. So she stands with big oil, she doesn't stand with the people of California. They revere their environment, it is a god given gift, and it also is an economic asset."

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is Barbara Boxer in a debate with Carly Fiorina. And they are both vying to become our senator U.S. senator from California.

GLORIA PENNER: You know, I was at an event for Barbara Boxer one night a couple of weeks ago, and it was held at an ocean front estate. And I went, you know, as an observer, certainly. And Barbara Boxer pointed out to this beautiful coastline and said, and remember these are all her supporters, you have to look out at that scene and know that with Carly Fiorina, there will be a push to have oil rigs there off the coast of La Jolla.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So this is a very big point with the Boxer campaign.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Her record on the environment. As you pointed out, Carly Fiorina and her record on water, and whether or not this is more important to the Central Valley farmers. Nina is calling us of from north Clairemont. Nina, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Oh, I'm really delighted that you are taking my call. Because I want to get over this garbage heap of political she said she said she said. Let's get to the point. Barbara Boxer wants this job because she's had it for a long time. She's comfortable in it, and she's probably done pretty well. Why does Carly Fiorina want this job?


NEW SPEAKER: That's my question.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: : Thank you, Nina.

GLORIA PENNER: Well, Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman, I'm not gonna pair them up, but both of them are at least millionaires, in the case of Whitman, a billionaire, so they have been very successful in business, they're women of a certain age, they probably still have worlds to conquer, and the choice is, what do you do with the rest of your life? Women like this are powerful, they like the feeling of control, I'm not gonna psychoanalyze the candidates. But I think this is sort of a natural progression if you enjoy being in the public, and if you enjoy the fact of perks and power and recognition, politics could be the way to go. And in this case, both of them are trying.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: : And if indeed you take them at their word, they are trying to reform the way government works. That's one of the reasons that they both say that they're in it to win it.

GLORIA PENNER: Absolutely.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: : One of the major points of contrast between Barbara Boxer and Carly Fiorina is on the subject of immigration reform. What does Carly Fiorina say about that topic?

GLORIA PENNER: Well, I thought it was interesting, on immigration, those moderates pat more son of KPCC, and Gabriel Lerner of the Spanish language newspaper, La Opinion, try to get Carly Fiorina to discuss what she would do about the millions of people here in the United States illegally and she did not answer them directly. She said the problem really in front of us is that the boarder is not secure, and we don't have a temporary worker program that works.

NEW SPEAKER(AUDIO CLIP): We have to secure the border, and frankly, I believe the answer is to have governors certify that the border is secure. However I must always say this. We need a temporary worker program that works in this state. We don't have one. Agricultural depends upon, restaurants depend upon it, technology depends upon it, and when we had an opportunity to have a guest worker program with bipartisan support in 2007, Barbara Boxer was the deciding vote that destroyed that guest worker program.

GLORIA PENNER: But Barbara Boxer of course defended her vote, and the way she defended it was to say this.

NEW SPEAKER(AUDIO FILE): The way it was drawn up was not like the Feinstein/Boxer ag jobs bill, which is a very good bill. The way it was drawn up and imagine this: You get to be sponsor bide your employer, you work for two years, then you had to leave the country. Now it could well be at that point you were leaving your family, and you had to leave for a year, and then you had to beg your employer to take you back, that same employer, otherwise you couldn't come back. And we were told in writing that it would have led to an additional one million illegal immigrants because people simply would have gone under ground.

GLORIA PENNER: Boxer's opinion might reflect the large advantage that she and other democratic candidates enjoy among Hispanic voters, the latest field pole shows Hispanics favoring Barbara Boxer 48 percent to 29 percent.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: : And I believe as part of that larger immigration issue, Barbara Boxer said that she she did support immigration reform in taking care of all the illegal people who are here in America and Carly Fiorina really didn't address that. She said the border, maintaining the security of the border is the issue.

GLORIA PENNER: That is a tough, tough area for most of the Republicans who are running now, when you ask them, what would you do with the 11 million or more illegal immigrants who are here in this country? It arranges all the way from deport them to, well, have them prove that they are worth while citizens.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: : Let's let's touch on healthcare reform though, because the two candidates have very different reviews views on the healthcare bill.

GLORIA PENNER: That's right and Fiorina said the that lawmakers missed an opportunity with healthcare reform to bring more competition to the insurance industry. And she'd she would favor repealing the law if elected. And Boxer said she'd be open to amending the healthcare bill, but she suggested that Republicans have no plans to replace it with any reforms if it's repealed. So her concern is if it's repealed, it won't be replaced. And Republicans generally including Fiorina are saying let us repeal it. There's that's a feeling here that among Republicans and Fiorina that healthcare could be improved by letting sicker patients without insurance coverage enroll in government subsidized programs, that's referred to as high risk pools. And actually both of them do like the idea of universal health coverage.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: : Just different ways to go about it.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Barbara Boxer, Gloria, at the beginning of this election cycle was named as one of the vulnerable Democrats and I'm wondering is that still the case.

GLORIA PENNER: I would think that she is perceived by some of her colleagues in the senate as vulnerable. Because what we see now is that her colleague, U.S. senator Diane Feinstein from California, who has never been particularly close to her is now working feverishly to help Barbara Boxer, and Feinstein has raised money, made campaign appearances, she's already stressed that she has this productive working relationship with Boxer which is kind of a new thing. And in addition to that, we see that many of the senators have come forth. The California Democratic delegation, for example, to Congress, is also pitching in from speaker Nancy Pelosi, doing fundraising appearances and the president has come out a couple of times, Michelle is supposed to come out. So when you look at that, all this energy effort and money that's being put into the Boxer campaign, we have to believe that her democratic colleagues see her as vulnerable.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And what are the poles telling us?

GLORIA PENNER: Recent poles actually so her doing quite well. The most recent I saw was Fiorina 48 percent I'm sorry, Boxer 48 percent to 40 percent for Fiorina. And that was done by LA Times University of Southern California. It was released on Saturday.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Gloria, thank you so much, and you'll be back next week talking about our own congressional race.

GLORIA PENNER: Yes, indeed I will.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.