Calif. GOP Senate Candidates Say Boxer's Beatable

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Republicans hope to reduce the Democratic majority in the Senate in November, and one of their targets is California's famously liberal Barbara Boxer. She is a three-term incumbent whose job approval has dipped below 50 percent. California Republicans heard from their leading contenders for the U.S. Senate over the weekend, all claiming to have the best chance to beat Boxer.


And Republicans hope to reduce the Democratic majority in the Senate in November. One of their targets is California's famously liberal Barbara Boxer. Boxer is a three-term incumbent whose job approval has dipped below 50 percent. But she was a very popular subject of conversation among the California Republicans holding their convention this past weekend in Silicon Valley.

NPR's Ina Jaffe was there.

INA JAFFE: It's hard to talk about urgent matters of public policy or candidate biographies when instead, we could talk about Barbara Boxer's enormous floating head.

(Soundbite of Silicon Valley Republican Party Liberty Caucus video)

Unidentified Man: No one knows from whence it came.

JAFFE: This is from a video that former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina showed convention delegates before telling them why she has the best chance to defeat Barbara Boxer. In the eight-minute video, Boxer's head grows bigger and bigger 'til it bursts through the Capitol dome and drifts above the California landscape, like a balloon in the Macy's parade.

(Soundbite of Silicon Valley Republican Party Liberty Caucus video)

Unidentified Man: She talked and talked, and got nothing done.

JAFFE: The Fiorina campaign is becoming known as much for whacky campaign videos as for anything the candidate said. Just Google "demon sheep," which went viral last month.

When the lights came up after the giant head video, Fiorina embellished her portrait of Boxer as ineffectual and an environmental extremist.

Ms. FIORINA: We have to balance protecting our environment with protecting our jobs. And isn't it ironic that Barbara Boxer would work so hard to protect a two-inch fish, but she cannot find it in her heart to protect the lives of the unborn.

JAFFE: Once upon a time - let's say two months ago - Fiorina thought the Republican Senate nomination was hers to lose. Her chief rival was Chuck Devore, a member of the State Assembly who's respected in conservative circles but little-known outside of his Southern California district.

Then suddenly, former congressman Tom Campbell decided to stop running for governor and run for senator instead, and he quickly moved ahead of Fiorina in the polls.

Former Representative TOM CAMPBELL (Republican, California): I'm running because our freedom is at risk, threatened by a soft socialism that inserts government into every corner of our lives.

JAFFE: Campbell tends to sound more like he's delivering a eulogy than rousing the rabble. Despite his low-key ways, he was elected five times to the House of Representatives, all the while maintaining his professorial demeanor. He comes by it honestly. He spent most of his career teaching law and business at Stanford and Berkeley.

And he's hard to pigeonhole - libertarian on social issues, and conservative on fiscal ones.

Mr. CAMPBELL: I was the number one, single most fiscally responsible member of Congress, according to the National Taxpayers Union Foundation.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. CAMPBELL: I was the cheapest guy in town.

JAFFE: But Campbell isn't cheap enough to satisfy his party's conservative base. Republican blogger John Fleischman points to a hike in gas taxes Campbell advocated to help balance California's budget.

Mr. JOHN FLEISCHMAN (Republican Blogger): He is having to spend a lot of time this weekend explaining how you can call yourself a fiscal conservative and propose billions of dollars in new taxes. So, it's been a really tough weekend for Tom Campbell.

JAFFE: At the convention, the candidates barely mentioned each other, so you'd never know how nasty this race has already been. Fiorina has denied her campaign chief called Campbell an anti-Semite. Campbell denied he'd written a letter defending a Muslim professor who'd called for the destruction of Israel. Then the letter surfaced.

Meanwhile, Fiorina's image as a savvy businesswoman has suffered, as critics in both parties have pointed out that she got fired from Hewlett-Packard, and that the company was accused of selling computer parts to Iran on her watch.

But at the convention, it was more of a family affair. Delegate George Opacic said he was content just to get to know the candidates better.

Mr. GEORGE OPACIC (Delegate, California): I think all three are great candidates and would make great U.S. senators. They're a great match-up against Barbara Boxer.

JAFFE: There's plenty of time for more conflict before the primary comes in June. This weekend, the only thing California Republicans wanted to think about was winning.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Santa Clara, California.

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