The Quiet Surge: Boxer Staying One Step Ahead In California

October 4, 2010 4:34 a.m.

Although Senate Republicans are expected to pick up a lot of seats, one race that they had high hopes for currently seems to be slipping away, based on the latest polls: California, where Sen. Barbara Boxer is running for her fourth term.

On paper, Boxer suffers from the same lackluster popularity that has plagued many other Senators in the tough economic environment — as the TPM Poll Average of her approval rating shows, she is at only 42.6% approval, to 47.4% disapproval. Furthermore, Boxer’s Republican opponent is Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard, who has put several million dollars of her own money into the race (though nowhere near the more than $100 million put in by Republican gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman).

However, the latest TPM Poll Average for the horse race gives Boxer a steady lead of 47.4%-43.4%, and Fiorina has been unable to catch Boxer for some time.

Indeed, the last polls that put Fiorina ahead were a month ago, from SurveyUSA and Rasmussen — and those same firms have since put Boxer back ahead. In the meantime, Boxer has led in the last 10 public polls of the race.

So how has Boxer stayed ahead? The answer seems to be pretty simple — some good old-fashioned economic nationalism and populism, targeting Fiorina as a greedy corporate exec who shipped jobs overseas. For example, here is a recent ad attacking Fiorina for having sent jobs “to Shanghai, instead of San Jose — Bangalore, instead of Burbank.”

Boxer also brought up the same theme repeatedly at a recent radio debate, attacking Fiorina for having said she is proud of her corporate record: “She laid off 30,000 workers, shipped their jobs to China, to India, to Malaysia. She’s said she’s proud of what she did. The fact is I’ve met some of these people who she’s laid off, I’ve heard some of their stories.”

Beyond that, of course, Boxer is a Democratic incumbent running in a heavily Democratic state — so much of her attacks on Fiorina have worked not to gain new Democratic supporters, but to cement the ones that party usually has, and prevent Fiorina from breaking through. As a recent Public Policy Polling (D) survey said: “The simple reality is that for a Republican to win in California they have to be appealing to Democrats and for now Carly Fiorina has not passed the test.”

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