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Carol Platt Liebau - Columnist

Carol Platt Liebau is a senior member of the editorial board. She is an attorney, political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA, and has appeared on the Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNN, Orange County News Channel, Cox Cable and a variety of radio programs throughout the United States. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Carol Platt Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review. [go to Liebau index]


Unconvincing, And Certainly Not Inevitable
Sorry, Senator Boxer – The Voters Are the Ones Who Decide
[Carol Platt Liebau] 3/22/04   

It’s hard to believe that someone from the center-right segment of the political spectrum would find herself at a Los Angeles rally to kick off Senator Barbara Boxer’s re-election campaign – and that’s not just because a visit to Southern California from the senator is a rare event, indeed.

Having been asked to provide a counterpoint to the media for much of the “happy talk” destined to emanate from the senator and her campaign staff, I somehow found myself at the Fire House Museum downtown, on an unseasonably hot March day last week. It would be tempting to joke that the experience itself was worth the price of admission (the event was free to the public). But in truth, as an opportunity to examine Senator Boxer out on the trail in full campaign mode, the rally was revealing.

Whatever Barbara Boxer’s merits, they do not seem to include a gift for public speaking. The senator herself seemed somewhat disengaged from the whole process – she appeared to be going through the motions, with a minimum of genuine enthusiasm. Her remarks were lackluster, both in substance and delivery.

In general, they were the same boilerplate that one might have heard from any liberal Democrat, against any Republican – she’s for families, her opponent isn’t. She’s not afraid of the special interests, but her opponent’s beholden to them. (Of course, the fact that more than half of the attendees at her rally were quite obviously either union members, or holding round, red signs advocating abortion rights doesn’t mean that they represent special interests, does it?). According to her remarks, Senator Boxer is also part of the mainstream, able to work across party lines – so of course, her ranking by the nonpartisan National Journal as the third most liberal member of the Senate (behind only John Kerry and Paul Sarbanes) was conveniently omitted.

Predictably enough, Barbara Boxer also hurled her signature accusation at her opponent – a charge that has served her well against both Bruce Herschensohn and Matt Fong. She accused her opponent of being “out of step” with California. Given Boxer’s own record, it takes some shamelessness even to make this claim with a straight face. After all, didn’t she support Proposition 56, which would have allowed tax increases to pass with a 55% vote, rather than a two-thirds majority? Well, 66% of California voters didn’t agree with her on that one. Didn’t she want Gray Davis to remain in office? The 55% who voted to recall him didn’t seem to see eye-to-eye with her on that one, either.

And those two issues are only the most recent. In 1994, she opposed the “three strikes” sentencing law, which 72% of voters supported – and which was primarily authored by her opponent this year, Bill Jones. In 2000, she opposed Proposition 22, which stated that only marriages between a man and a woman are recognized in California – and it passed with 61% in favor. These examples are only the tip of the iceberg.

Barbara Boxer is vulnerable – and she knows it. What was most striking about Boxer’s rally was her obvious effort to cast her re-election with an aura of inevitability – a sure sign that she senses her own weakness. Politicians who really do feel secure about victory tend to play up the competitiveness of the upcoming contest, just to ensure that their supporters don’t become complacent. But Boxer crowed about her current fundraising advantage and her history of winning. And that, more than anything, signaled an awareness on the part of the senator – if not the press – that she can win only by convincing her opponents that it’s useless to put up a fight, and that they’re underfunded and outmaneuvered.

From what I could see at last week’s rally, she’s wrong on all counts. If there was any lesson to take away from the Boxer kick-off, it was this: Republicans can win this Senate seat – as long as they don’t allow themselves to become dispirited and misled. Unfortunately for Barbara Boxer, neither she, nor the liberal interest groups, nor even the press get to decide who will be the inevitable winner of the 2004 California Senate race. The voters do – fortunately for us all. CRO

CRO columnist Carol Platt Liebau is a political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA.

copyright 2004


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