Carly Fiorina widens lead over Barbara Boxer: All about jobs?

The California Senate race could hinge on perceptions of how Carly Fiorina and Barbara Boxer will approach the economy and job creation.

By , Staff writer

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    California Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina campaigns at the Blue Diamond almonds in Sacramento on Aug. 8. She leads Sen. Barbara Boxer by five points, according to a recent poll.
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Sen. Barbara Boxer is losing ground to challenger Carly Fiorina in the race for California's Senate seat, which is considered key to both political parties.

Fiorina showed a five-point lead (47 percent to 42 percent) in a SurveyUSA poll released Aug. 12. The poll surveyed 602 likely California voters between Aug. 9 and Aug. 11 and had a margin of error of 4.1 percent.

“The 2010 California Senate race is very important nationally,” says Carleton College political scientist Steven Schier. “If the GOP is to gain control of the Senate, they must win the California Senate race.”

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Because economic concerns lead the list of voter issues, Senator Boxer and Ms. Fiorina have been parrying over their plans to create jobs in the struggling state. Fiorina has accused Boxer of supporting “job killing” taxes and regulations by allowing Bush tax cuts to expire. And she has said recent small business legislation co-sponsored by Boxer “has done nothing to make it easier for small businesses or family owned businesses.”

Boxer counters that she has introduced legislation that would establish the Working Capital Express program – a new lending initiative that would encourage banks to extend more credit to small businesses. The US Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday endorsed Fiorina last week.

“Fiorina’s message may be resonating with voters,” says Jessica Levinson, an analyst with the Center for Governmental Studies. “She has styled herself as a savvy businesswoman with real-world experience who can help improve the economy and create jobs,” she says, noting that a July poll by the same organization showed her lead at two percent.

“The job creation issue will clearly separate Boxer and Fiorina,” says Schier. “Boxer will likely argue for the effectiveness of the 2009 stimulus spending and urge more such spending to resuscitate the economy. Fiorina will brand the stimulus a mistake and argue for tax cuts and deficit reduction as a means to restoring jobs.”

As the jobs battle rages, one California columnist has criticized both campaigns. “We should remember that one senator has almost nothing to do with national economic policy,” writes Dan Walters in the Sacramento Bee. “All of this blather about jobs and the economy is a political con game, and we'd be fools to fall for it.”

Other political analysts disagree with that assessment.

“Any candidate who fails to address the unemployment problem in California is politically tone deaf,” says Ms. Levinson.

“It is a relevant discussion for Boxer and Fiorina,” says Steve Levy, president of the California Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy. “They are Senate candidates, and national policymakers do have tools and choices about both short-term and long-term strategies for growth and prosperity," he says.

Boxer and Fiorina are mirroring the national partisan debate over Bush economics and what Obama is doing, says Mr. Levy.

“Should we extend the tax cuts or do more stimulus spending? How can we fight recessions and still bring down the deficit? These are good Senate questions,” he says.

The debate may be less about specific proposals than a fight over blame, says Claremont McKenna College Jack Pitney.

“Fiorina says that Obama policies have failed, Boxer points the finger at Bush,” he says. “Fiorina paints Boxer as part of the political establishment that caused the mess. Boxer paints Fiorina as part of a corporate establishment that ships jobs overseas.”

Boxer is chasing her third election to the Senate since 1992 after five terms in the US House. Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard, is making her first run for political office.

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