California Senate contenders slug it out in debate

Accused of contributing to the federal budget deficit, incumbent Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer shot back at her Republican opponent Carly Fiorina that we should “cut out wasteful spending” by getting out of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and clamping down on private contractors “who are ripping off the government.”

The incumbent squared off with Fiorina in the second and last scheduled debate September 29, broadcast over public radio and streaming through the internet, during mid-day when audiences were sparse.

Boxer, who has a reputation as a “fighter,” pounced on Fiorina, a multi-millionaire Hewlett Packard former CEO, calling for “stopping tax breaks to the millionaires and the billionaires.”

The Boxer – Fiorina race for Senate is still considered a toss up, but polls in the last week show Boxer gradually pulling ahead after running neck-and-neck with Fiorina during the summer.

A CNN/Time/Opinion Research Corporation poll released September 29 showed Boxer ahead by 9 points.

Boxer said her proposals to bring down the federal budget deficit would bring in trillions of dollars that could also be used to save and create jobs, revive the economy and expand social programs.

Fiorina, when pressed for her position on ending the wars in order to pay down the deficit, ducked the question and explained she would “save money on the Defense Department” but “not cut funding on national security.”

For her part Fiorina said she would bring down the federal deficit by, among other things, imposing a freeze on hiring and pay for federal employees as well as replacing every two workers leaving the payroll with one.

“I’ve seen her budget recommendations,” Boxer said. “They are a disaster,” she added, that would result in “draconian cuts” to social programs, including Social Security and Medicare.

Boxer later elaborated on the war question.

Boxer, who voted against Bush’s invasion of Iraq, said she wholeheartedly supports President Obama’s “very clear exit strategy” in Afghanistan, which begins withdrawing U.S. troops in 2011, and will continue to encourage the process.

The candidates sparred on a number of issues, including jobs, the environment, the health care law, the 2009 stimulus package, immigration and abortion, and ended up taking the opposite side on each.

Most attribute Boxer’s rise in the polls to her aggressive television and media strategy in recent weeks.

Drawing on the theme of a recent ad, Boxer said her Republican opponent, while at HP, “laid off 30,000 workers, shipped jobs overseas, and she says she’s proud of her record – well, that’s her record.”

Boxer can also count on a small army of volunteers from the labor movement and other social organizations, all of whom have been campaigning for her since Labor Day.

But the financial resources and political resolve of Fiorina’s right-wing corporate supporters are not to be underestimated. They are intent on handing back control of Congress to the Republican Party in November.

Earlier this week, former House Republican leader Dick Armey and his far-right “Freedom Works” announced that they are ready to spend “tens of thousands” of dollars in get-out-the-vote drives for Fiorina, while the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched a new anti-Boxer ad.

Boxer’s is receiving her support and funding from a wide cross section of constituencies, including consumer advocates, labor unions, environmentalists, entertainment executives and the majority of high-tech firms despite her opponent’s tenure as HP CEO.

Fiorina’s main financial contributors are oil and mining companies and Wall Street investors.

It is no wonder that the League of Conservation Voters named Fiorina “one of the dirty dozen,” Boxer quipped.

Image: Less than a full house at the Pasadena Republican Club debate-watching party