Sen. Barbara Boxer and former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina squared off Wednesday night on jobs, global warming, immigration reform, gay marriage and other issues in their first—and likely only-- senatorial debate.
The debate, held at St. Mary's College in Moraga, was televised with 400 allowed into the packed college auditorium.
Boxer, California's Democratic Party senator who was first elected 18 years ago, is seeking re-election on Nov. 2. She told the audience: "I'm in the Senate because I fight for people."
Boxer said she has enacted 1,000 provisions during her 17-year tenure in Washington, D.C., including after-school programs. She painted Fiorina as a Wall Street CEO who laid off thousands of workers and shifted many jobs to other countries such as China and India when she headed HP.
But Fiorina, the Republican nominee, said that under Boxer and other Democrats, California's unemployment rate has soared to 12.3 percent and the nation's budget deficit has grown to $13 trillion.
Fiorina said the nation's economy "is being strangled by too much uncertainty and regulation" and alleged that the stimulus bill pushed by President Obama's administration and Boxer "has manifestly failed."
Fiorina defended her record at HP, which the company's board of directors fired her from in 2005, saying, "Sometimes you have to make the tough decision to cut some jobs to save other jobs." She said the company improved its performance during her tenure.
She also said she's running for the Senate because she believes the country "is headed in the wrong direction" and that she's "struck by the anger, frustration and fear" of people she talks to across the state.
One of many big differences between the two candidates was their positions on state Proposition 23. The measure on the November ballot would suspend Assembly Bill 32, also known as the Global Warming Solutions Act, which was signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger in 2006 and would bring California into compliance with the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol.
Fiorina described AB32 as "a job killer in the short term" because of the heavy regulations it imposes, but she refused to say how she would vote on Proposition 23.
Instead, she said, "My focus is on a comprehensive national energy policy."
In a report published this morning in the Christian Science Monitor, staff writer Daniel B. Wood reported that while the one-hour debate was "gaffe free," analysts said it was "too scripted."
"This was a hard-hitting debate, if not a particularly spontaneous one," Jessica Levinson, political reform director of the Center for Governmental Studies, told Wood.
"My biggest disappointment is that the event felt so scripted," Levinson continued. "At times, it seemed less like an exchange of ideas, and more like an exchange of talking points. I yearned for a moment like the one that occurred on the 'West Wing' [TV show, when both candidates agreed to throw out the rules and have a free and open dialogue about the campaign issues."
Wood also talked to Sherry Jeffe, a political scientist at University of Southern California.
"Since this is Carly Fiorina's first time running for elected office, the fact that she demonstrated her command of the issues and stood up well against a veteran U.S. senator helps her as challenger," Jeffe is quoted in Wood's article.
In one parry, Boxer came out on the losing end because she looked like the Washington insider that Fiorina is trying to paint her, Jeffe said. Fiorina said Boxer had only produced four bills with her name on them in 18 years in the Senate. Boxer countered that perhaps Fiorina didn't really know what it took to produce a bill.
"It wasn't Boxer's finest moment," Jeffe said.