Tuesday, August 03, 2010

California U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

California U.S. Senate

August 3, 2010
91 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Incumbent

2008 Presidential Result: Blue State (West)

Outlook: Tossup (D)

California is considered fertile territory for Democrats, but incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer's quest for a fourth term has turned into quite a barnburner, and a race Democrats might not have been expecting to have to sweat out.

Boxer has been serving in Congress since the 1980's and is a committed liberal. Her personality is often at times abrasive and there would be nothing that conservatives would like better than to see her delivering a concession speech. She has had tough races in the past, but has been able to pull out victories by strong fundraising and by successfully demonizing her opponents to an extent, particularly along the lines of gender. Boxer is often potentially vulnerable for a misstep in this age of YouTube "gotcha" politics. A while back, some hay was made out of her dressing down a General at a Senate committee hearing for referring to her as "ma'am" (as he had been calling the male Senators "sir"), and insisting he address her as "Senator" because she had worked hard to obtain that title.

This year, Boxer will be opposed by Republican Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of computer company Hewlett-Packard. Fiorina has much in common with the state's GOP nominee for Governor, Meg Whitman. Both are very wealthy businesswomen from the high-tech sector who have never run for office before (and at times neglected their civic duty to vote), but who had gotten involved in the 2008 Presidential campaign as advisers to Republican candidates. They may not be BFF (as the same could be said for Boxer and her longtime Senate colleague Dianne Feinstein who was elected with her in 1992), but they clearly have a lot riding on this election in California together. They will either wind up complimenting each other's messages, or the state's voters might chose to split their ballot and just vote for one of the Republicans.

While Whitman won her primary over a more perceived conservative candidate, Fiorina, defeated both a candidate who ran to her right, and one in former Congressman Tom Campbell (a somewhat frequent statewide aspirant) who said he was a more moderate fit for California than Fiorina and would be more electable. Ultimately though, Fiorina won by a large margin. Her personal wealth should come in handy in this politically expensive race, and at the least, will cause Boxer and the Democrats to have to spend a lot of money of their own, which could in other ways aid Republicans in the Governor race and other contests.

Boxer has never had to face a woman before and she could find it harder to imply to female voters that her opponent is a sexist. Fiorina also has an inspiring story of having beaten breast cancer in the past couple years. The Democrats can be expected to hammer away though at Fiorina's record at HP and will argue that she was "fired" from her post and caused many job losses. The Republican nominee will need to defend that record, while attacking Boxer's as a Washington insider. Fiorina may also not be immune to gaffes either, such as on the wake of her primary victory, she was caught on an open television satellite feed making some fun out of her opponents hairstyle.

The cattiness will probably continue all the way until Election Day. At this point, it appears that Boxer has a slight lead in the polls, but the debates, and the paid advertising will play a key part in determining the result of what is now a tossup contest. If Republicans can win in deep blue California, it means they will have had an extraordinary election night, and a GOP pickup here could potentially be the one that swings control of the Senate.

I really hope I turn out to be wrong, but the Democrat lean of the state, ticket splitters who will go for Whitman in the Governor's race, and the ruthlessness of Boxer, gives me the hunch, at least at this point, that the incumbent will survive a very close election.

Fiorinia campaign link:


2010 U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 1 D, 4 R
Predicted U.S. Senate Balance of Power thus far: 41 D, 27 R