US Senator Barbara Boxer faces toughest re-election yet in California

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California Democrats convene Friday in Los Angeles. U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer is scheduled to address the party elite Saturday. Recent polls suggest that Boxer holds a wide margin over Republican contenders for her seat. But KPCC’s Julie Small reports that some pundits think the margin isn’t as wide as it should be for the only Democratic candidate in a very Democratic state.

The three-term incumbent hopes for a fourth term. California’s junior U.S. Senator admits that she faces a tough race this year.  But during an appearance on MSNBC in February, Boxer said she wasn’t worried about the election.

"You’re being tested at these times," Boxer said. She said constituents want to see how a politician handles a difficult situation, "and I’ve been there, I’ve done that and I intend to just do my work. And I agree with the president, if we do our job, the politics will just take care of itself."

A recent Los Angeles Times-USC poll indicated that Boxer holds a 14-point lead over a “generic” Republican candidate. 

Republican pollster Linda Divall said those numbers suggest that the U.S. Senate race in California is anything but certain.

"My takeaway of Boxer is that she is in nowhere near as strong a position as she should be given the Democratic nature of the voters and given President Obama’s strong approval rating. But nonetheless she’s running against three candidates that are not at all well defined," Duvall said.

Those three candidates are Republicans who want their party’s nomination in the June primary: former Congressman Tom Campbell, former Hewlett-Packard chief Carly Fiorina, and state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine). 

Barbara O’Connor, who directs the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at Sacramento State, predicted that the battle between them will give Boxer the upper hand.

"There are three [Republican candidates]," O'Connor said, "they are very different in a lot of ways and they will be attacking each other. So whoever does win will come out scarred and poorer for the experience and she [Boxer] will be rested and well funded."

Boxer has raised $13 million for her war chest. She took in more money than any of her Republican challengers this year.

O’Connor called Boxer one of the most effective campaigners in the state – and the scholar said she expects Boxer’s lead to grow after she starts shaking hands and kissing babies.

"People always underestimate Barbara Boxer," O'Connor said.

But O’Connor conceded one factor that could trip Boxer up. A lot of Americans doubt the efficacy of government and dislike politicians right now – especially those who’ve been in office for awhile. 

Even though she’s the junior U.S. senator, Boxer is one of California’s senior politicians.