U.S. Senate candidates Sen. Barbara Boxer and Carly Fiorina debated a second time Wednesday afternoon in a radio match-up that underscored the sharply growing schism between their positions on the environment, immigration and the economy.
Democrat Boxer, a three-term senator, is one of the chamber’s liberal stalwarts. In recent polling, she has edged slightly ahead of her Republican challenger Fiorina, who has dug increasingly deeper into conservative positions as she seeks to capitalize on the sour economy and a discontented electorate to topple Boxer.
“This race creates one of the clearest choices in the nation,” Boxer said.
The debate was broadcast by KPCC in Pasadena but had Boxer speaking from Washington, D.C., while Fiorina was at the radio station. It was moderated by Los Angeles Times columnist Patt Morrison and La Opinion Metro Editor Gabriel Lerner.
The candidates addressed the environment at length, with Fiorina courting Central Valley voters by criticizing Boxer for prioritizing environmental protection over the valley’s water-intensive agricultural interests. Fiorina accused Boxer of refusing to intervene in 2008 on behalf of Central Valley farmers when state regulations dictated that irrigation be shut off at one point to protect a species of endangered fish.
“Hundreds of acres lay fallow and tens of thousands of people were out of work,” Fiorina said. “When the regulation says we should protect species at any cost—and we are costing people jobs—then that would be an example of where common sense and compassion should prevail."
Echoing a barrage of recent attacks against Boxer, Fiorina again accused her of falling sway to “extreme environmentalists” who have contributed vast sums to her campaign. But even as both moderators repeatedly asked her to specifically name organizations, she declined, at one point pausing for an extended period to evade the question.
Fiorina also said that although she opposes AB 32, the California law limiting greenhouse gas emissions—which she has called a “job-killer”—she believes climate change is a problem and requires a “global effort” that began with negotiations with China. But she also said she opposes “expensive” cap-and-trade legislation, an 180-degree turnaround from two years ago, when she supported the idea while stumping for John McCain during his presidential election.
Boxer, meanwhile, responded she was “proud to have the support of the Sierra Club, the support of the League of Conservation Voters.”
“It’s shocking to me that someone trying to get to the U.S. Senate from the state of California would turn her back on the environment,” she added.
The incumbent senator’s unproductive record as the chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, a panel notorious on Capitol Hill for its dysfunctional bickering, was also called into question. She acknowledged that two of her recent clean energy bills failed to progress.
“We fell short,” Boxer said of her legislation. “The fact is, big oil, dirty coal—who is very strongly supporting my opponent – weighed in.”
On federal spending, Boxer said she would reduce the deficit by seeking to end the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq to save $1 trillion and recover costs from contractors that have overcharged the defense department. But when pressed by the moderators to offer proposals to more deeply attack structural issues within the federal deficit, such as ballooning Medicare and Social Security costs, Boxer did not provide any substantive plans.
Fiorina said she would seek to freeze federal pay raises and only hire one additional federal worker for every two that left the payroll. She would also designate 10 percent of tax revenues to go toward paying back the federal debt. When asked about Medicare, Social Security and defense, the three biggest budget expenditures, Fiorina also fell short.
She only said, “I believe there is much opportunity to save money in the defense department. However, I believe our military need support.”
On immigration, another looming issue in the debate, Fiorina sternly said that she would strive to seal off the borders—especially as Mexico’s drug wars have spilled into this country, she warned—and establish a guest worker program. But she staunchly refused to enunciate her position on whether to establish a path to citizenship for undocumented aliens in the country, to the frustration of the moderators.
Saying that the most pressing concern was securing the borders, she shot back at the moderators, “We always skip over the problem right in front of us and talk about something else.”
Boxer said she believed in a comprehensive immigration reform, but said that she previously voted against a guest worker program because it was inhumane and akin to indentured servitude.
Boxer also had an impassioned plea to keep the Democrats’ landmark health care legislation, which Fiorina has vowed to “repeal and replace.”
“I’ll be darned if we go back to where we were before,” when thousands of families were going bankrupt due to medical costs,” Boxer said. “We can mend it, but don’t end it because it took us 100 years to get this.”
Fiorina said that although she initially “cheered” the health bill believing it would reduce the deficit, “we are learning now of people being thrown off their insurance plans, that premiums are rising.”
“Let’s open up the health insurance market to real competition,” she said. “Let’s subsidize a high-risk pool.”
The debate was the second and likely last of the debates between the two candidates. In the most recent Field Poll, Boxer opened up a 47-41 lead, while a recent Los Angeles Times/USC poll had Boxer up 51 to 43 percent.