Sen. Boxer emphasizes progress on the economic front as she gears up for tough reelection race

As Sen. Barbara Boxer girds for a tough reelection battle, she is crisscrossing California during the Senate recess to highlight what she sees as concrete accomplishments in the last year -- jobs created by the economic stimulus package, benefits from the healthcare bill for seniors and the ill and tax breaks for businesses that are hiring the unemployed.

“We are waging important battles to get our economy back on track,” the Democrat told a Wednesday luncheon gathering of the Valley Industry & Commerce Assn. in Studio City. “Congress, working together with President Obama, is focused on a jobs agenda. We want to restore stability and prosperity to our nation.”

Boxer is not in official campaign mode yet, but the appearances are meant to paint the incumbent as a woman working tirelessly for her constituents as her Republican opponents sling attacks at each other.

The message to voters is “ ‘They’re fighting, I’m doing,’ ” said Mark Petracca, chairman of the political science department at UC Irvine. “ ‘I’m addressing the problems that confront this state.’ ”

In a recent Los Angeles Times/USC poll, the three-term senator had a comfortable lead over a generic Republican. But at a time when voters are frustrated with the economy and skeptical of incumbents, she has repeatedly acknowledged that she faces a rough run before November’s general election.

Since the Senate recess began in late March, Boxer has visited the Port of West Sacramento, which received an $8.5-million grant that will create or save 500 jobs, an interstate widening project in San Bernardino that is funded in part by a $128-million federal investment, and the Valley business luncheon. On Thursday, Boxer heads to the border town of Calexico to survey the damage from Sunday’s earthquake.

Though Boxer’s public campaign efforts won’t escalate until Republicans choose a nominee, she along with the Democratic National Committee will be the beneficiaries of a Los Angeles fundraiser headlined by Obama on April 19. She also will speak at the California Democratic Party convention next week.

On Wednesday, Boxer said she was encouraged by recent news of job growth and increased retail sales. About 150,000 jobs have been created in California with stimulus money, she said, adding that the state will be receiving $50 billion more. The audience’s biggest applause followed Boxer’s reference to one federal investment: adding 10 miles of carpool lanes to the traffic-clogged 405 Freeway.

But the difficulty Boxer faces this year also was apparent when one voter stood up at the otherwise genteel luncheon and castigated Congress and the president for allowing unfettered growth of government without care for debt or deficit.

“I have the feeling government is trying to take over everything and trying to save everybody, trying to make everybody equal,” said Noam Sharf, a heating and air-conditioning salesman from Canoga Park.

Republican candidate Carly Fiorina’s spokeswoman also dismissed Boxer’s words.

“Barbara Boxer’s election-year conversion to job-creation rhetoric is in direct conflict with her record of support for job-killing legislation, including the healthcare bill,” Amy Thoma said.