Boxer, Jones Debate Views

Times Staff Writers

In a televised debate marred by technical difficulties Tuesday, Republican Senate challenger Bill Jones characterized his opponent as an out-of-touch politician who supported ousted Gov. Gray Davis, while Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer played up Jones’ support of President George W. Bush and his increasingly controversial decision to send American troops to Iraq.

The hourlong debate was the only scheduled meeting between the two candidates. Jones, a former California secretary of state, has lagged Boxer in polls and in fundraising. Tuesday’s debate offered him his best chance yet to connect with voters.

Jones repeatedly told viewers that Boxer was a proponent of “overregulation, over-taxation and over-litigation,” and predicted that she would be swept from office by the same voter discontent that brought Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to the state Capitol.


“After listening to you tonight, I’m not so sure you’re aware of what’s going on in California,” Jones told Boxer. “We just replaced a governor you supported.”

Boxer denounced the Bush presidential campaign and quoted Vice President Dick Cheney as saying that Jones would be on the president’s team. That team, she said, had made a mess of the war in Iraq, “because there wasn’t a plan after the brilliant military strategy .... There should have been a plan to bring in our allies.”

Boxer said that if she were reelected, the only people she would be in lock step with are the people of California.

Tuesday’s debate at the Museum of Tolerance was organized by the League of Women Voters and broadcast statewide on radio and television, including KNBC in Los Angeles. The event quickly got off to a rocky start. As soon as Boxer began her opening remarks, the link failed and Channel 4 viewers saw at least two minutes of dead air. When the picture returned, Jones was speaking.

The war in Iraq accounted for several of the debate’s most heated moments.

Jones backed Bush’s actions, saying that the world would support the U.S. effort “as long as we stay the course.” Questioning the war in Iraq is an affront to U.S. troops, he said.

Boxer, who voted against giving Bush the authority to go to war in Iraq, angrily denied that contention.

She also asserted that government would spend $200 billion in Iraq, money that she said could be spent better at home. “We have to start focusing on our families and instead of spending so many billions and billions and billions of dollars abroad,” she said.

Jones, though supporting Bush’s policies, declined to answer when he was asked whether he would have voted to give Bush the power to send troops to Iraq, given what is known today.

“This is not the time to address this question. It’s time to be supportive,” he said, calling the question “hypothetical.”

That was one of several questions that one or the other candidate sidestepped.

Jones declined to say whether he would support increased government support for research using stem cells taken from human embryos. In an interview after the debate, he said he would oppose a measure on the November state ballot, Proposition 71, to increase state funding for such research.

Supporters of stem-cell research say that it could lead to cures for many diseases; opponents call the research immoral because it involves tissue from fetuses at an early stage of development. Jones said he opposed the measure because of its cost.

Boxer, asked her position on gay marriage, said only that she supports domestic partnerships and voted against a proposed amendment to the Constitution that would have forbidden gay marriages.

Jones said he supports marriage only “between a man and a woman,” but he declined to say how he would respond if a family member announced that he or she had fallen in love with someone of the same sex.

On other issues the two diverged more sharply. Jones said he opposed giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. Boxer said she could support the step if it included “the right safeguards” against abuse.

The two also clashed over Jones’ contention that Boxer had voted to cut $400 million from the nation’s intelligence budget as the head of a subcommittee on intelligence. Boxer heatedly denied that allegation, noting that she sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, not the Intelligence Committee. Foreign Relations does not have jurisdiction over intelligence.

“There is no subcommittee on intelligence. And I’ve never in my life voted against an intelligence budget,” Boxer said.

So far, the Senate race has drawn little attention from voters.

Opinion polls, including a Field Poll released last weekend, have shown Boxer with a consistent lead. Polls also have shown voters reporting that they know little about Jones or his views.

Jones’ relatively anonymity has been exacerbated by Boxer’s advantage in raising money.

As of the end of June, when the candidates filed their last fundraising reports, she had raised $14.1 million and had $7.1 million in cash. Jones had raised about $4 million, but had less than $1 million in cash.

He announced last month that he would put at least $2 million of his own money into the campaign -- a pledge meant to counter perceptions that he wasn’t committed to an all-out effort against the two-term incumbent.

Political strategists have said that Jones would need to raise at least $15 million to be competitive, a figure that remains elusive with less than three months to go before the Nov. 2 election. Boxer has said she expects to raise and spend $25 million.

Both candidates have appealed for money nationally. Jones has increased direct-mail appeals to Republicans, both in California and elsewhere, portraying Boxer as a far-left liberal whose views are too extreme for the state’s core voters.

Boxer has used her image as a standard-bearer for women’s rights to raise money from a large number of supporters in other states.