As Democrats and progressives take stock of the loss of Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, some eyes are beginning to turn toward California, another state that has been reliably blue in its national voting intentions for some time but has a history of picking Republicans for other key statewide offices, including governor. Does Obama’s and Coakley’s loss last night suggest the same thing is going to happen to Barbara Boxer this fall?
The three Republican candidates running against her would certainly like us to think so, according to Carla Marinucci:
The upset victory of Republican Scott Brown Tuesday in the Massachusetts Senate race had an immediate effect in California, where GOP U.S. Senate Republican candidates wasted no time going on offense — vowing that Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer is on tap next.
Former South Bay Rep. Tom Campbell made the first move, issuing a jab at Boxer — along a claim that he will now take her on and address “the suicidal direction Congress and the President are taking our economy.”
The combative statement from the ususally low-key Campbell hint at the pumped-up themes — and energy — to come from the GOP side in the 2010 CA U.S. Senate race against Boxer, where former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and Assemblyman Chuck DeVore of Irvine are already raring to go. And GOP state officials were positively bubbly in their reaction to Tuesday’s election results in the Bay State, where Brown handily beat Democrat Martha Coakley.
The statements themselves almost all make reference to the economy, to taxes, and spending. In other words, all three believe the way to beat Boxer is to show she’s some kind of big government, big spender and that such policies are bad for the economy.
This is absolute nonsense. Californians don’t want to gut federal spending, they want more of it. But Barack Obama’s decision to prop up the banks and to push through a too-small stimulus has produced economic and political disaster that Coakley couldn’t overcome, and that Boxer will have a difficult time dealing with.
At the same time, Boxer is no Martha Coakley. Boxer knows how to win close elections, and has been preparing for this race for some time. Still, recent polls show Boxer’s lead is narrow over all three Republican challengers. Clearly, good preparation isn’t enough. She has to turn around the narrative.
The evidence from Massachusetts suggests some places to start. A poll done by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee shows that Obama voters who voted for Brown or stayed home – who determined the outcome in favor of Brown – all feel the health care bill doesn’t go far enough, overwhelmingly support the public option, and want Democrats to be bolder. This fits with the overall analysis of the election that it was another vote for change, and that sadly (for us) voters were beginning to believe Democrats were incapable of or unwilling to deliver that change.
The key shift seems to have been in December, when Obama cut a deal with Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson to abandon the public option and tax employee health benefits instead of the wealthy. That deal soured the public on the health care bill, making it look like more of the same instead of the kind of bold change that begins to move health care away from dependence on insurance companies that everyone hates. Lieberman and Nelson are also very unpopular with the Democratic base, and many Democrats and independents simply could not understand why Obama was siding with them instead of standing up for the people who put Obama in office. As a result, Dems and independents are less supportive of Obama and his health care performance, according to the latest Field Poll.
Calbuzz argues that Boxer will likely begin bashing the bankers and espousing a strong populism. She definitely ought to start doing that right now, coming out for a 50% or more tax on bank bonuses and full reinstatement of Glass-Steagall, opposition to Bernanke reconfirmation, and other things.
But Boxer needs to start with health care. She needs to call for using reconciliation to restore a strong public option, eliminate the excise tax in favor of the House’s tax on the wealthy, and say she expects this to get done by the end of the month if possible. Boxer would be seen as the leader that California progressives have been looking for, and the polls suggest this would play well with independents too.
It would also help Boxer with another albatross around her neck, and that is growing public anger at the failure of the US Senate as an institution. Boxer needs to also come out strongly for the abolition of the cloture rule, or at least changing it to require only 51 votes to end debate. It would be a sign that Boxer is a force for change, for making government work for the people. What Lieberman and Nelson were allowed to do last month caused significant damage to the Senate Democrats, and the rules must be changed to prevent it from happening again.
Some might argue that Boxer needs to be cautious here, and the rest of the caucus might want to protect the silly “traditions of the Senate.” Boxer should reject this entirely and realize that her reelection is more important than preserving a failed set of practices. She doesn’t want to repeat Harry Reid’s mistake.
Finally, progressives have a real ally in Barbara Boxer. In recent posts I’ve seen some criticism of her from progressives in the comments, which is fine. But unlike Dianne Feinstein, Boxer has generally been a good Senator and someone who has been there when we needed her. Not only does she deserve re-election over any of her 3 Republican opponents, she deserves active support from the progressive base.
If people were willing to go to bat and make last-minute calls for Martha Coakley, then California progressives ought to be doing this to a much greater degree over the course of 2010 for someone who is an ally, and who continues to respect them. Barbara Boxer has a fight on her hands, but she also is prepared to win that fight. Campbell, Fiorina and DeVore will have a much tougher hill to climb than they think.
UPDATE: In fact, Boxer has been out in front on this already. She voted against the repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999, and is a cosponsor of the Maria Cantwell bill to restore Glass-Steagall. Expect to hear more about this in the weeks and months to come.