MORAGA -- U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and Republican senatorial nominee Carly Fiorina duked it out Wednesday night over whose record shows better promise of spelling relief for California's struggling economy.

Each did her best to portray her opponent as out of touch with Californians' needs. Fiorina cast Boxer as a 28-year officeholder with an unabashedly liberal, failed record that has been "devastating for this state." Boxer defended her record while casting Fiorina as a failed "Wall Street CEO" who got rich while laying off thousands of workers and shipping their jobs overseas before being fired by her board of directors.

The major-party nominees met for their first -- and possibly only -- scheduled debate at Saint Mary's College. KTVU Channel 2 political editor Randy Shandobil moderated the debate, with questions posed by San Francisco Chronicle senior political writer Carla Marinucci, KQED Radio California Report host Scott Shafer, and La Opinion senior political reporter and blogger Pilar Marrero.

Asked why she supports continuing tax cuts for the rich while opposing bills to save teachers' jobs and help small businesses, Fiorina noted that most of the 2001-03 tax cuts about to sunset at this year's end went to middle-class Americans who will suffer if they are allowed to lapse.


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Boxer, on rebuttal, noted that Fiorina had called the teachers' jobs bill a "disgrace" even though it was funded by rescinding tax breaks for companies that send jobs to other countries. Fiorina later said Boxer was "playing political football with taxpayer money" on the teachers' bill, in that many won't be put back to work until next year or the year after, and that the small-business aid bill was tainted by an amendment allowing government intrusion in community banks.

Asked whether the war in Iraq was worthwhile and what lessons should be applied to Afghanistan, Boxer noted she was among 23 senators who voted against the Iraq war, yet she later voted for funding to protect troops and veterans; she said she wants a clear exit strategy for Afghanistan. Fiorina said Boxer voted against the interests of troops several times.

Fiorina, who has aired a campaign ad likening Boxer's concern over climate change as a national security issue to worrying about "the weather," refused to say -- either during the debate or at the news conference afterward -- whether she will support Proposition 23, which would roll back California's landmark greenhouse gas emissions law. She did say the only way to act on global warming is globally, and so she will focus on a national, comprehensive energy policy.

"If you can't take a stand on Proposition 23, I don't know what you will take a stand on," Boxer replied, arguing that the measure would cripple California's burgeoning clean-energy economy and give other nations the lead.

"My opponent is kind of used to creating jobs in China and other places," Boxer jabbed, noting Fiorina is supported by the same oil and coal interests backing Prop. 23. "They are hoping that I don't make it."

Asked about the status of children of undocumented immigrants, Fiorina said she supports the DREAM Act -- bipartisan legislation providing such youths a path to citizenship through college studies or military service -- but opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants. She said the nation needs both better border security and a more viable guest-worker program -- parts of comprehensive immigration reform that Boxer helped doom in 2008.

Boxer insisted she has supported two bipartisan immigration bills in recent years, while Fiorina has called the battle for comprehensive reform "a distraction" from more important issues.

After the debate, Boxer said the two campaigns are working to schedule another faceoff.

Read the Political Blotter at www.ibabuzz.com/politics.