SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer and Republican challenger Carly Fiorina traded jabs over the environment, healthcare and jobs in the second debate on Wednesday of a close campaign.
Fiorina, the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard Co, and Democrat Boxer, seeking a fourth term in the Senate, both promised jobs and fiscal responsibility, two issues foremost on the minds of voters in the most populous U.S. state, which is reeling with an unemployment rate of more than 12 percent and a $20 billion state budget deficit.
Some of the sharpest differences in the live radio debate emerged over the questions of whether environmental regulation can create jobs and how to improve healthcare.
The pace was fast and the tone was cool although the two, in separate studios across the country, frequently charged each other with distorting the truth.
Fiorina, who is making her first run for public office, has urged that implementation of the state's landmark climate change law be put on hold because it would cost jobs and California cannot solve environmental problems on its own.
"California is not a state that sits around and lets anyone else lead," retorted Boxer, who was first elected to the Senate in 1992 after serving five terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and sees the climate change regulations creating "green" jobs.
'I TAKE THIS PERSONALLY'
Boxer also defended the recent national healthcare insurance overhaul and warned voters to beware of a "repeal-and-replace" agenda by congressional Republicans, saying that any promised replacement would not happen soon.
"I'll be darned if I'm going to go back to where we were before," she said. "It took a hundred years to get this done."
Fiorina countered that the sweeping healthcare law pushed through by Democrats on Capitol Hill had led to some Americans losing their insurance. A less complicated system would cost less and do more, she said.
"I am a breast cancer survivor. I take this personally. But this bill has created a host of problems," she said.
Boxer also leaped on a question about abortion rights, which she supports and Fiorina opposes. Californians on the whole favor abortion rights, but Fiorina calls it a distraction in the campaign.
"The subject of this election is not abortion. Every voter in California agrees it's jobs, it's out-of-control government spending," Fiorina said.
A Field Poll last week showed that Boxer had built a slight lead over Fiorina, 47 percent to 41 percent.
Boxer paints Fiorina as a greedy former chief executive who cut U.S. jobs to hire overseas, and Fiorina calls Boxer's decades-long record in Congress a failure that illustrates the incumbent's inability to create jobs.
Political analysts call the race a tossup, saying Boxer has been hurt by high negative ratings and faces her toughest challenger yet in the well-financed Fiorina, a Washington outsider running in a bad year for incumbents and Democrats.
Republicans, who see a chance to regain majorities in the House and Senate in the November 2 elections, would love to knock off Boxer, an outspoken liberal and strong supporter of President Barack Obama's agenda.