By Bill Boyarsky
The nation’s problems—war and unemployment—are badly damaging the Democrats, even on the Pacific Coast, which President Barack Obama won easily in 2008. And Obama himself, reacting slowly and indecisively, is contributing to the challenges his party faces in November.
Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Patty Murray of Washington are in trouble. Only Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon appears safe. If Boxer and Murray lose, Republican chances of winning the Senate are greatly strengthened, given the trouble facing some other Democrats around the country. Add that to potential Democratic loss of the House, and the Republicans could take over with their pro-oil and help-the-rich agenda.
Boxer’s plight is a perfect example of the Democrats’ problems. As the year began, she was favored to win. If she had held on to her lead, the Democratic Party could have turned its attention elsewhere. But her chances sunk with the economy. Today, with unemployment in California at 12.2 percent, almost three points above the national average, she is about even in the polls against her opponent, Carly Fiorina.
Boxer rose from the Marin County Board of Supervisors to the House and finally the Senate in 1992. Fiorina, CEO of Hewlett-Packard Co. from 1999 until she was ousted in 2005, is counting on the bad economy and hostility to Washington for a victory. This is how she puts it: “Barbara Boxer’s taxpayer-funded big-government bailouts have failed to make a positive difference for our economy.”
Not very inspiring, but the economy is so bad she may not have to say much more. And she’s getting help. American Crossroads, the group led by Karl Rove, the former adviser to President George Bush, has already put $1 million into a television ad erroneously claiming that Boxer voted to cut Medicare benefits by $500 billion, according to the Annenberg School of Public Policy’s Factcheck.org.
The difficulties the Democrats are having in fashioning a rebuttal were apparent on a recent morning when Boxer sat at a conference table in a stuffy room in Los Angeles City Hall next to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. They were there to promote a job-creating initiative that could help Boxer.
It’s a great idea and a simple one. Los Angeles voters approved a sales tax increase in 2008 to complete a subway line, build other rail lines and improve highways. It was to take 30 years to finish the work. The mayor’s staff recently proposed borrowing money against sales tax receipts with the federal government guaranteeing the loans. With the local tax dollars repaying the loans, the plan wouldn’t require federal funds. And the work would be done in 10 years rather than 30, and create 166,000 construction jobs. Work could start quickly. The plan is now under consideration by Congress.
“Everything we do has to be job-focused,” said Boxer.
This proposal should be a plus for her. But as I sat in the back of the room and listened, I could see why she is in trouble. Although the idea is simple, the transportation bureaucrats and financial industry people (who would sell the bonds for the borrowing) made it complicated. So did Boxer, who lost me in a tangled description of congressional obstacles, as did the others.
I didn’t understand why there would be any obstacles. You’d think the administration would be rushing this through. Where was a cheerleader representing the president at the event? It’s as if the White House doesn’t see the coming disaster.
The administration is coming in with too little, too late. Rather than fighting for a big stimulus package last year, the Obama team waited for its limited steps to work. Now, on Labor Day, the president proposed spending $50 billion in the near future to create jobs rebuilding roads, railways and airport runways. But voters understand this will not help end unemployment quickly.
Without immediate solutions, Boxer is attacking Fiorina and hoping that the novice politician will foul up before Election Day.
“Barbara Boxer, people know her,” said Kam Kuwata, who is helping run a Democratic party operation, CEO Watch, which hammers away at Fiorina and Meg Whitman, the billionaire former eBay CEO who is running for governor against Democratic Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown.
“They don’t know who Carly Fiorina is, what her record is. They may know she was a corporate executive. They may know she was with Hewlett-Packard. What they don’t know is that the stock price fell about 50 percent under her rule. What they don’t know was she laid off 30,000 workers. What they don’t know was she was fired for incompetence. And she got a golden parachute.”
Unable to cut down unemployment, this is how the Democrats are trying to survive by scraping out victories attack-by-attack, hoping for a break. In Nevada, for example, where the inarticulate and unpopular Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid, may win because he is running against an eccentric tea-bagger, Sharron Angle. In other races, Democrats similarly are counting on extremists to be vulnerable to attacks or to shoot themselves in the foot, which is a real possibility since they are all gun nuts.
We’ve come a long way since 2008 and Obama’s speeches about hope. I was never fond of those speeches. They seemed to promise more than anyone could deliver.
But on occasion, given the right circumstances, those speeches could be inspiring. You can’t say that about this current Democratic campaign and its likely outcome.
Carly in charge?: Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, pictured, could bring Barbara Boxer down in November.