Will: Boxer, Fiorina, and California Politics

Newport Beach, Calif.—Carly Fiorina, 55, has been contending with chemotherapy and radiation treatments and reconstructive surgery because of breast cancer, so she is understandably undaunted by the relatively minor challenge of winning a U.S. Senate seat in this state that last elected a freshman Republican senator in 1982, that has not supported a Republican presidential candidate since 1988, and that has not elected a right-to-life candidate in statewide voting since 1998. This race will test the power of the rising Republican wave.

Fiorina might surf it from here to Capitol Hill because her opponent, Barbara Boxer, 69, is the Senate’s fiercest liberal, and California is an intensely unhappy laboratory for liberalism—high taxes, opulent entitlements, thick regulations, and subservience to government employees’ unions.

During 10 years in Congress, Boxer represented San Francisco suburbs where many residents consider the city’s liberalism too tepid. She is used to having the wind at her back. In 1992, California’s “year of the woman,” she ran for the Senate in tandem with Dianne Feinstein, who won the final two years of the Senate term Pete Wilson left when he became governor. Boxer was reelected in 1998 when California was luxuriating in the tech boom. In 2004 she won when John Kerry was trouncing George W. Bush in the state by 10 points. Now the 28-year Washington veteran seeking a fourth term is running into headwinds.

Three years ago, global warming was one of the top issues for Californians. Now it has dropped off the radar in a state with actual, rather than hypothetical, problems. Unemployment is at least 15 percent in 21 of the state’s 58 counties. Of the 13 U.S. metropolitan areas with unemployment that high, 11 are in California, which has lost more than 400,000 jobs since passage of the $862 billion stimulus. Like Barack Obama as he campaigns in what he calls Recovery Summer for more stimulus (because the first did not ignite recovery), Boxer is vexed by the fact that California’s unemployment rate is 2.2 points higher than when stimulus was passed. When she said the stimulus was responsible for 100 jobs at a Los Angeles lithium-battery factory, the owner demurred, saying the stimulus had nothing to do with the jobs.

Boxer is stressing Fiorina’s tempestuous tenure as CEO of Hewlett-Packard, the computer company, during which Fiorina sent some jobs abroad. Fiorina’s response is that having coped with the basic fact of globalization—“any job can go anywhere”—she has the experience to create and protect California jobs.

Boxer voters may be energized by a November ballot initiative that would legalize marijuana. Fiorina favors and Boxer opposes another ballot measure that would suspend California’s new anti-global-warming taxation and regulation regime until the state’s unemployment rate—currently 12.3 percent—has been no higher than 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters.

California has 308 plants and animals—including a fly—on the endangered-species list. Government-ordered solicitude for one, the delta smelt, has caused water supplies to be curtailed in the Central Valley—the pumping of water somehow menaces this fish. The costs of its safety include dead orchards, fallow acres, and high unemployment, particularly among Latino farm workers.

Fiorina’s right-to-life stance may not matter much this year because economic anxieties have largely eclipsed other issues. Besides, it is theoretically impossible to fashion an abortion position significantly more extreme than Boxer’s, which is slightly modified infanticide. She supports “partial birth” abortion—the baby, delivered feet first, is pulled out as far as the neck, then is killed. And when asked during a Senate debate whether the baby has a right to life if it slips entirely out of the birth canal before being killed, she replied that the baby acquires that right when it leaves the hospital: “When you bring your baby home.” Fiorina believes that science—the astonishing clarity of sonograms showing the moving fingers and beating hearts of fetuses; neonatal medicine improving the viability of very premature infants; the increasing abilities of medicine to treat ailing fetuses in utero—is changing Americans’ sensibilities and enlarging the portion of the public that describes itself as pro-life.

Polls show the race is quite close. If Fiorina can capture this seat, in 2012 Democrats might, for a change, at least have to spend precious resources to keep its 55 electoral votes. If, however, a candidate like Boxer can survive in a year like this, California really is irredeemably blue.

George Will is also the author of One Man's America: The Pleasures and Provocations of Our Singular Nation and With a Happy Eye But . . .: America and the World, 1997—2002.

Join the Discussion