Lively exchanges expected in Boxer- Fiorina debate |

Lively exchanges expected in Boxer- Fiorina debate

Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and Republican challenger Carly Fiorina have said their campaign is giving California voters a clear choice.

On Wednesday, their policy differences will be on full display as they engage in their first debate — the only one scheduled between the two so far.

Boxer and Fiorina have come out on opposite sides of virtually every major subject, from job-creation strategies and ways to stimulate the economy to environmental protection and abortion rights.

Their hour-long debate will begin at 7 p.m. and will be held at St. Mary’s College, in the eastern San Francisco Bay area city of Moraga.

Throughout the campaign, Fiorina has assailed Boxer as a failed politician who has done little to help California’s economy. Boxer has fought back, calling the former head of Hewlett-Packard Co. a failed CEO.

“It’s not about hair. It’s about real issues that matter,” Boxer said Tuesday during an appearance at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. She was referring to a remark Fiorina made shortly after winning the Republican primary in June, when she was caught on an open microphone describing the three-term senator’s hairstyle as “so yesterday.”

Boxer is asking California voters to send her back for a fourth term on the belief that Democrats have the answers to guide the nation out of recession. She said her recovery plan is centered on promoting clean-energy technology, which she said has the potential to dwarf the biotech industry, and investing in infrastructure.

The senator has framed a vote for Fiorina as a vote to return to Bush-era economic policies that benefited the wealthy but left middle-class Americans facing high unemployment and home-foreclosure rates.

The stakes are high for both candidates.

Boxer has had narrow re-election victories in the past but faces potentially her toughest challenge this year. She is running in an anti-incumbent environment in which Republicans are highly motivated and faces a female candidate for the first time as a senator, throwing a new dynamic into her campaign.

Fiorina has a 12-to-1 fundraising disadvantage to Boxer and needs to make a favorable impression on voters who mostly know her as the CEO who was fired from the iconic Silicon Valley company. Because Republicans are less than a third of registered voters in California, she must find a way to appeal to the 20 percent of voters who are independent.

To do that, she has tried to stay focused on the economy.

Fiorina has characterized Boxer as a free-spending liberal who promotes Democratic policies that have hampered California’s recovery. She has criticized the $862 billion federal stimulus program as doing too little to create private-sector jobs, and has tried to pound the message home as California’s unemployment rate has persisted above 12 percent.

Fiorina says she would reduce the federal deficit, cut regulatory red tap and promote tax credits for businesses that she says will promote hiring.

“You don’t need to pay for tax cuts. They pay for themselves if they are targeted because they create jobs,” she said during a July interview on KCBS radio in San Francisco.

Fiorina has campaigned on her rise from corporate secretary to the chief executive’s office, saying she knows what it takes to create jobs. Boxer has shot back, noting that HP cut thousands of jobs and shipped thousands more overseas during Fiorina’s tenure between 1999 and 2005.

On social and environmental issues, the two diverge even more.

Fiorina opposes abortion and has said she favors overturning Roe v. Wade, while Boxer is a strong advocate of a woman’s right to choose. Boxer opposes more oil drilling off the California coast, while Fiorina supported a plan to expand it.

Wednesday’s debate is sponsored by the San Francisco Chronicle, KTVU Channel 2 and KQED public radio.

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