US & World

Would California be better off with a Republican senator?

Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Carly Fiorina greets supporter Dr. Reza Karkia (R) during a town hall meeting Aranda Tools Inc. during a campaign event on October 6, 2010 in Huntington Beach, California.
Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Carly Fiorina greets supporter Dr. Reza Karkia (R) during a town hall meeting Aranda Tools Inc. during a campaign event on October 6, 2010 in Huntington Beach, California.
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Whether the issue was stimulus spending, health care or financial regulation, Democrats courted senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. They’re moderate Republicans willing to cross party lines. Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel called them “focused negotiators” that use their votes to bargain for the best interests of their state.

Would a Republican – say, Carly Fiorina – help California cut better deals in the Senate?

California senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein have been reliable Democrats. But Former Congressman Mickey Edwards – once a member of the House GOP leadership – also calls them “non-players.”

"You don’t need to talk to them," he says. "You just chalk them up, two votes, and go on and forget about them."

California hasn’t had a Republican in the Senate in more than 20 years. But with the GOP on the rise, maybe replacing Democrat Barbara Boxer with the Republican Carly Fiorina would be good for California.

Liberal talk show host Bill Press disagrees. He says Fiorina would have "zippo power, zippo influence, zippo authority or ability to influence the course of debate."

Press says Fiorina would be a “real junior back bencher” in the Senate. He says California would lose the clout of Boxer’s 18 years of seniority.

But reporter Ben Geman from “The Hill” says in the Senate, seniority is “far from the whole ballgame.” He says if you look at who is in the middle of different types of deals, "it’s not necessarily going to be the most senior member. Sometimes a more junior member or even a freshman can fairly quickly rise up and start to negotiate and find a niche."

Geman says the key is a senator who’s close to the political center. That’s how Maine's Republican senators Collins and Snowe wield so much influence.

But political science professor Mark Sandelow says Carly Fiorina’s no centrist. Sandelow teaches at the University of California’s D.C. center. He says Fiorina’s stance on social issues and the environment put her in the political center of Republican senators – but not on the moderate edge that could reach across the aisle to Democrats. Sandelow says "the notion that Carly Fiorina is going to go over, say to Harry Reid or Dick Durbin from Illinois, and say, 'let’s work together on an environmental bill,' is seemingly farfetched at this point."

Sandelow says depending on the outcome of the mid-term elections, California’s other senator, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, is a more likely candidate to become “the deal maker.” He says she's a solid Democrat, "but she’s the kind of Democrat that works very well with Republicans. And if Republicans take control of the Senate, Dianne Feinstein should be a pivotal player."

Sandelow says there is a way Fiorina could wield significant influence. He says if the Republicans take control of the Senate, the GOP leadership would pay attention to a Senator Fiorina. "Republicans would be so overjoyed to – first of all, be rid of Boxer, and second of all, to have a Republican, someone with an 'R' after their name from California, they will certainly try to take care of her to make sure that she stays in the Senate for a long time. That probably means good committee assignments, they’ll probably throw some – if not 'pork,' at least they include her name on some bills so that she has high prominence. Republicans will certainly want to take care of her."

As for Barbara Boxer – she already sits on a plum committee; she chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee. Reporter Darren Samuelsohn of “Politico” says that will be an important position next year when Congress writes the “big time money” bills for water and transportation. He says if you’re in charge of those bills, you’re sending resources for bridges and your waterways back to your state. "Having Senator Boxer in that spot," he says, California is "pretty much in a prime position."

Samuelsohn says with Boxer’s committee writing the bills and with Feinstein on the committee that hands out the money, California could claim its share of infrastructure and water dollars.