Senate candidates Boxer, Fiorina exchange jabs, debate jobs and the environment

Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer and Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina
Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer and Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina
Kevork Djansezian & David McNew/Getty Images

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Democratic U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer and her Republican challenger Carly Fiorina traded jabs and offered differing views on how to create jobs during their one and only scheduled debate Wednesday night. Polls show the two locked in a tight race.

Time and again during the debate, Barbara Boxer criticized Carly Fiorina for laying off people when she headed Hewlett-Packard from 1999 to 2005.

“She shipped 30,000 jobs overseas," Boxer said. "And through all that pain, what did she do to show any sacrifice? She took $100 million.”

Boxer said Fiorina’s action make her unfit to serve as California’s United States senator. “I don’t think we need those Wall Street values right now.”

Sensitive to the argument in a state with unemployment topping 12 percent, Fiorina defended herself by saying when you lead a business you sometimes need to make the "agonizing choice to lose some jobs to save more.”

During the one-hour face-off at St. Mary’s College east of Oakland, Fiorina also pointed out that Boxer voted for the bailout of Wall Street firms and has taken contributions from Wall Street executives.

The 55-year-old political novice said she's running on a platform of less regulation and lower taxes as a path to create jobs. “I’ve proposed a two-year payroll tax holiday for every small business that will hire an unemployed worker." She said she also wants five-year tax holidays for new businesses that will locate in the U.S.

Fiorina supports extending the Bush administration's tax cuts. Boxer opposes that.

Fiorina called the 69-year-old three-term incumbent a bitter partisan whose policies have devastated California.

“She is for more taxes, she is for more spending, she is for more regulation.”

Not so, Boxer replied. She pointed to bills she's supported, including one to save 16,000 teachers' jobs across the country. Boxer complained the Senate needs just one Republican to support a bill that makes sure small business get access to credit.

The two also clashed over environmental policies. Fiorina hasn’t taken a position on an initiative to place the state’s new greenhouse gas regulations on hold, but she still opposes the law known as AB32.

“AB32 is at the very least in the short term a job killer," Fiorina said.

Boxer supports the law. “I know that my opponent has gotten huge support from the coal companies, from big oil. They are hoping that I don’t make it," Boxer said.

The two briefly debated foreign policy, exchanging criticisms over who supported the troops more.

Social issues came up too. Fiorina opposes same-sex marriage, Boxer supports it. The moderator sought to clarify Fiorina’s opposition to the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion.

“If there were an opportunity," Fiorina said. "By the way, the reason for that [overturning Roe v. Wade] is that I am a strong believer in states' rights. I think voters have to make some of these very difficult decisions.”

California’s overwhelmingly supported legal abortion, and Boxer’s used that issue to beat opponents in previous elections.

“If my opponent’s views prevailed, women and doctors would be criminals – they would go to jail. And women would die like they did before Roe v. Wade.”

Seeking to tap into voter anger, both candidates ended the debate on populist themes.

“We must start by changing the people we send to Washington," Fiorina said. "You are asking for one simple thing now – that we take our government back, make it listen and make it work.”

Boxer said, “This is a choice, a clear choice between someone who is fighting for taxes for the middle class and small business verses someone who is fighting for the wealthy, wealthy few – the billionaires, the CEOs.”

National party leaders are closely watching the race. Republicans likely would need to unseat Boxer if they have any hope of seizing control of the U.S. Senate.