A roomful of supporters of a California Republican candidate got their money's worth from Carly Fiorina tonight as the former Hewlett-Packard CEO and Republican Senate nominee faced off for the first (and apparently only) time against Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer.
Starting with video confirmation that Fiorina is substantially taller than Boxer, the crowd of about 30 supporters of 28 District State Senate candidate John Stammreich, watching the debate on television at Stammreich's Torrance headquarters, cheered Fiorina's on-point though somewhat affectless performance.
This crowd was longer on social conservative than libertarian passion. A group "YES" went up as Fiorina affirmed that she would not support "amnesty," and a fugue of "Right!" and "That's right!" followed Fiorina's affirmation of her support for Proposition 8, the state's 2008 ban on same-sex marriage. Mentions of illegal immigration prompted plenty of muttering.
On the other hand the room was silent on Fiorina's admission that she would "overturn" the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision "if it came up" (i.e., if the Senate were in position to overturn a court ruling, which it is not – a point Fiorina seemed to grasp better than debate moderator Randy Shandobil). There was also no reaction to Fiorina's professed support for the DREAM Act, which would provide financial aid to illegal immigrants who came in as children. (This time it was Carly who failed to note that this is a proposed California law, and she's running for the U.S. Senate.)
Boxer was characteristically facile, but suffered several setbacks. She returned at least four times to her efforts on behalf of veterans and her "love" for the military, only to have that strategy unravel when the topic turned to Boxer's July "Don't call me ma'am" contretemps with Brig. Gen. Michael Walsh.
Boxer's other main thrust of the evening was a protectionist attack on Fiorina's record at HP – including digs at Fiorina for having "30,000 jobs shipped overseas" during her HP tenure, and a vision of "Made In China" and "Made In India" stamped where "Made In America" should be.
Fiorina's defense on this point was pretty straightforward: "In the 21st Century," she said, "a job can go anywhere." She also put off a video-voter question from a disgruntled former HP employee who asked if she would accept that a job is a "God-given right." Pushing her advantage too far, Fiorina then chided Boxer for soiling the reputation of HP, "one of the jewels of California" – a tack as transparent as Otter's defense.
The most interesting questions of the night came from, respectively, a video voter (described with wonderment by Shandobil as "not a Republican or a Democrat – an Independent") who wanted to know what the next senator would do about farm subsidies, and La Opinión's Pilar Marrero, who asked whether Boxer (widely seen as the more partisan firebrand to DiFi's get-along moderate) had ever differed with President Obama on anything.
Boxer's response to the subsidies question was preposterous: She bragged of having added a host of new specialty crops to the subsidized list. Her professed difference with Obama concerned an "exit strategy" for Afghanistan.
Boxer's easy demeanor may have been working against her. All Fiorina had to do was get some good digs in, which she did by focusing on Boxer's lengthy Senate record. Boxer's decision to put protectionism front and center – repeating the "Made in U.S.A." theme throughout and returning to offshoring of jobs in her closing comments – seems odd in an era when most grownups have stopped treating fluidity of employment and the fragility of a job as campaign issues and recognized them as facts of life.
There was little to nothing in either candidate to please fans of individual liberty, with Fiorina's proud stance against reproductive choice and Boxer's prouder stance in favor of a calcified, unionized form of jingoistic protectionism leaving little but nightmares for libertarians.
As for our host for the evening, I appreciated Stammreich's candor about the people he supports. "I will admit," he told the crowd, "[Fiorina] was not the person I was voting for" in her primary race against Chuck Devore and Tom "Demon Sheep" Campbell. Before praising Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley as a "crime fighter," Stammreich noted that Cooley is "not a spiritual speaker. He's not going to replace Tony Robbins or Joel Osteen." His characterization of Fiorina a "strong, conservative, pro-life, pro-marriage candidate" seems about right to me.
Stammreich is not supporting Proposition 19, though he does support medical marijuana and "taking a look at recreational use." His reason for not supporting it, however, seem to me troublesome in ways that go beyond pot coolness or uncoolness. He believes a pre-emptive move on pot legalization might endanger federal contracts with companies in California such as Raytheon (where he works as a supply-chain manager). Leave aside how this stacks up in terms of support for individual freedom and think about what it means for fiscal conservatism. If you're not willing to risk some shriveling of the federal tit, how can we believe you're serious about cutting government spending?