That dynamic played out in the candidates' first debate. Sen. Boxer hyperbolically thundered: "If my opponent's views prevailed (on abortion), women and doctors would be criminals, they would go to jail. Women would die, like they did before Roe v. Wade." But Fiorina calmly and beautifully explained that her own family life brought her to her position. She added that she recognizes "that not everyone agrees with me on this." And reminded voters "I recognize as well that the most important issue right now in this election is the creation of jobs and getting our government under control." She went on, again in response to a question, to defend and explain why she opposes federal funding of embryonic-stem-cell research. Fiorina gave a plug for more promising adults-stem-cell research and didn't miss the opportunity note that: "Senator Boxer voted against a ban on human cloning." It's hard to cast anyone else as extreme, as
Boxer has, with that record.
Fiorina used the debate as a teachable moment, not just a battle of sound bites. And it wasn't just pro-life me who was impressed. A Los Angeles Times review gave her high marks for her grace under fire.
And while Boxer, funded by Planned Parenthood and EMILY's List (a group that supports female pro-choice politicians and candidates) obviously thinks she can demonize Fiorina on these issues, it's not clear her strategy will have traction, even in California this year.
"In most polls, the race is a statistical tie," John J. Pitney Jr., a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College, observes, calling it "remarkable." "Though Republicans have sometimes done well in races for state government offices, California has long favored Democrats for federal office. No Republican candidate for president or U.S. Senate has won here since 1988."
It's remarkable because Fiorina is being outspent. It's remarkable because Fiorina is not running left or away from her staunchly held social positions. "Fiorina is doing well because California's economic woes are causing many voters to question the policies that Barbara Boxer supports," Pitney surmises.
Fiorina's strategy resembles Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell's race in Virginia last year. His opposition tried to paint him as a right-wing Neanderthal. But as far as he was concerned, the race was about jobs, education, and transportation -- it's what Virginia needed in a gubernatorial candidate. McDonnell not only won in the purple commonwealth, he won 51 percent of full-time, outside of the home, working women -- even as his opposition insisted on emphasizing and demonizing a graduate paper he wrote on traditional gender roles.
For too long in the American politics, women have been approached as if they are ovarian-Americans, voting in a bloc with special interests that are well-tended to by the Democratic party and feckless Republicans. But the existence of pro-life Republican women of such variety and styles as Fiorina and Palin and Nikki Haley in South Carolina and all the rest this year helps bury that old conventional wisdom. Perhaps along with Boxer's Senate career.
And that, I suspect is why Chris Matthews went out of his way to point out how he is so not into Fiorina: because these pro-life women are everywhere. They're winning and they're connecting with anxious voters and they're not going away, even in California.