One month after retiring from the U.S. Senate, Barbara Boxer has a new focus not far removed from her old one: electing like-minded Democrats.
It’s not as though anyone expected the kinetic Boxer to sit home and knit after 10 years in the House and 24 in the Senate, often as a fire-bombing assailant of Republicans. But her plans show she has no intention of retiring at 76.
In addition to delivering speeches — she has a contract with a Hollywood talent agency — Boxer will be raising money through a newly formed super PAC based in Los Angeles. Donations will go to candidates, particularly for the U.S. Senate, and to issues of importance to Boxer and her fellow liberal Democrats.
As with almost everything political these days, the impetus for her actions is President Trump.
An enthusiastic supporter of Hillary Clinton, Boxer said Trump has taken aim at “American values” — so she is taking aim at him.
The new fundraising vehicle will be a spin-off of Boxer’s campaign apparatus while in the Senate, called PAC for a Change. It will be run by members of Boxer’s political team, including her longtime campaign manager, Rose Kapolczynski.
In an interview, Boxer emphasized that she will not be paid by the super PAC.
“I don’t want people to get the misimpression that I’m creating a job for myself,” she said. “This is my country, and I’m going to stay out there.”
There’s a symmetry to Boxer’s political involvement. She started in politics as Americans were taking to the streets to protest the Vietnam War and then-President Nixon. The current protests echo the tenor of the 1960s and 1970s, but they’re against Trump.
“We are going to build on the outpouring of ordinary people after the election, to focus them on the 2018 elections,” she said. “We can march and march — and I still march, I started out that way — but we have to march to the polls.”
Fundraising is a crowded field, but Boxer has assets that offer the potential of something beyond a vanity project. She was renowned while in office for her vast list of supporters and donors, which she hopes now to tap.
“I realized that I don’t want the Koch brothers to be the only ones out there to do this,” she said of the billionaires whose spending benefits Republicans. She added wryly that “I can’t come anywhere close to their resources.”
At least half a million supporters will be targeted through an initial fundraising letter, Boxer said, with later entreaties to another half-million. She also will try to maximize her social media accounts, which lately she has used to scour Trump for his refugee and immigration plans.
“The only ‘huddled masses’ Trump seems to care about are the ones who visit his Trump Hotel,” she tweeted Tuesday to her 98,000 followers.
Enthusiasm is what she’s counting on. Trump’s presidency has unified Democrats, a fact made evident by the nightly protests against him — and against Democrats who appear in any way ready to work with him.
This month has marked the first time in more than three decades that Boxer hasn’t split her time between coasts, taking weekly flights between Washington and her home in the Bay Area and, more recently, near Rancho Mirage.
She and her husband, Stewart, first came to California in 1965 to raise their family, and Boxer said leaving home to fly to Washington for all those years was difficult. But California now colors her animosity toward Trump.
“Everything he’s fighting runs up against what we in California cherish about our state,” said Boxer, citing immigration, women’s rights, environmental protections and the like.
Much of the super PAC fundraising will be based in California, but given its strongly Democratic tilt, its profits will go elsewhere.
Boxer was succeeded in January by another Democrat, Kamala Harris; the state’s other Senate seat has been held for 24 years by Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat who has said she intends to run for another term in 2018. Were she to retire, it’s hard to imagine the replacement wouldn’t also be a Democrat.
But numerous Democrats elsewhere face tough fights in the midterm elections, in which Democratic turnout has historically fallen. Losses in 2018 could further erode their power in Washington, where they are a weakened minority in both houses.
Already Democratic organizations are trying to mobilize — and soon they will be joined by Boxer’s.
The former senator, meantime, seems relieved to be off the ballot herself.
“I am not retired in any way, shape or form,” she said. “I am very busy, and the beauty of the situation is that I’m in California.”
She misses the collegiality of the Senate, she said. As she delivered her farewell speech last year, even Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky came by to praise her tenacity and to listen to Boxer attest to the “noble” profession they shared (even if they’d stopped talking for years after a dust-up).
But she doesn’t feel distant from politics, either, given the tumult across the country these days.
“I still feel I’m in the middle of the fray because there isn’t anyone in America who doesn’t feel they’re in the middle of it,” she said. It was a glancing reference to Trump, the man who will be her target.