WASHINGTON — Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer has stockpiled all the traditional weapons, and added some new ones, for use against general election opponent Carly Fiorina.
The three-term incumbent had $9.7 million on hand, and no debts, as of May 19. Her trusted campaign team is the same one that's helped her win three previous Senate elections. Not least, Boxer has in Fiorina an opponent whose potential vulnerabilities have already been exposed during the primary.
"Outside of Bruce Herschensohn, she's the most far-right opponent I've had," Boxer said, sounding upbeat about the prospect. "I think this is going to be a clear choice."
Herschensohn, a Southern California television commentator, lost to Boxer in 1992 by a 43-to-48 percent margin, with third-party candidates splitting the rest. It was the closest race in Boxer's entire 28-year House and Senate career. Since then, Boxer has accumulated seniority and the re-election perks that come with it.
On Wednesday, Boxer showcased one of the advantages of incumbency.
As the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Boxer convened the Wednesday morning hearing on what's called the "Big Oil Bailout Prevention Liability Act of 2009." Introduced two weeks after the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil blowout, the bill increases industry liability for oil spills to $10 billion. The current limit is $75 million.
"As we watch this (spill), we have the strongest of feelings about what it would mean if it were to happen in our state," Boxer said at the crowded, televised session Wednesday, "so our hearts are in this hearing."
Boxer's committee chairmanship will likely provide more press and public policy opportunities in coming months. It could also, however, give leverage to her opponents.
"A lot of people are trying to use this very tragic event to advance their agendas," said Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the committee's ranking Republican.
Boxer doesn't mind having the combatively conservative Inhofe as a foil, in the same way as she will relish reminding California voters that former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin endorsed Fiorina. Defining one's opponent early and often, sometimes through who they associate with, is standard political practice.
"It's always an essential part of your campaign," noted Rose Kapolczynski, Boxer's long-time campaign manager.
Because she hasn't previously held public office, Kapolczynski added, Fiorina's disputed stewardship of Hewlett-Packard will be the center of Boxer's attention. Boxer's campaign team is already making use of video first put together by the campaign of former congressman Tom Campbell, one of Fiorina's primary opponents.
However, Fiorina's six years as the chief executive of a technology company also helped build her war chest, from which she's already spent $3.6 million as of mid-May.
"If she's willing to put millions of dollars of her own money into the campaign, that does make a difference," Boxer acknowledged, though she added that "it helps me raise money, too."
Fiorina, in turn, has Boxer's long public record to work with, as she presses questions about effectiveness and ideology.
Boxer's committee approved an energy and climate change bill last November, for instance, with all of the committee's Republicans boycotting the vote. Since then, her role in energy legislation seems smaller as other senators take the negotiating lead. The bill itself seems stalled.
Boxer has insisted her effectiveness should be judged on the committee's action and not on whether an energy and climate change bill actually becomes law.
"This election will depend on California's economy, and whether Carly can exhibit an ability to get California's economy on track," said Rep. Devin Nunes of Visalia, the first California GOP House member to endorse Fiorina last year. "I think this is going to be a tough race for Boxer."
Kapolczynski is again managing the reelection campaign, with Mark Mellman again handling Boxer's polling and Jim Margolis again serving as the campaign's media consultant.
This year, of course, they have the various ornamentations that didn't exist in the initial Senate campaign she ran for Boxer in 1992, including a YouTube channel, several Facebook pages and Boxer's Twitter account, which at last count had 20,671 followers.