By Kevin Yamamura
kyamamura@sacbee.com
Published: Friday, May. 7, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Friday, May. 7, 2010 – 12:10 am

LOS ANGELES – In their only on-camera debate, the three Republicans seeking to replace U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer did their best to run to the right, as each supported Arizona’s new immigration law and opposed California’s restriction on greenhouse gas emissions.

On major topics, Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and former Rep. Tom Campbell were often in alignment Thursday. They all, for example, said hedge-fund managers shouldn’t pay higher tax rates.

But that didn’t mean the night was tension-free. DeVore and Fiorina traded sarcastic barbs throughout, and both attacked Campbell as a moderate whose past views they considered too soft for the Republican Party.

“I was glad to hear Mr. Campbell talk about fiscally conservative principles because, in fact, I don’t believe there’s a tax increase in recent history that he hasn’t supported,” DeVore said in his opening statement.

Campbell entered Thursday’s debate at the Museum of Tolerance with a slight lead over Fiorina and a larger gap over DeVore, although a wide swath of the electorate remains undecided. No candidate has yet to blanket the airwaves with significant advertising.

The debate was taped for broadcast Sunday on most ABC stations statewide.

Fiorina came into the contest with a dose of momentum after claiming endorsements this week from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and the National Right to Life PAC.

All three candidates defended Arizona’s enactment of a strict new immigration law, which requires immigrants to carry proof of legal residency and expands the enforcement ability of local authorities.

“All the bill does is to say when you have reasonable suspicion on an otherwise legal stop, ask about the immigration status as well,” Campbell said.

DeVore accused his opponents of having supported some form of amnesty for illegal immigrants, a charge both Fiorina and Campbell denied. They said the federal government needs to establish a temporary worker program and strengthen border security.

Fiorina was the only candidate to allude to concerns about racial profiling. She attacked DeVore for having said, according to the Los Angeles Times, that it would be reasonable for an officer to question a group of people standing outside Home Depot who could not speak English.

“That is not helpful,” Fiorina said. “We have many men – hardworking American citizens – who perhaps speak Spanish who are looking for work because we have unemployment in this state above 13 percent.”

The candidates had one of their liveliest moments during a lightning round in which they were asked whether anyone on the federal government’s no-fly watch list should be able to purchase a gun.

Campbell said no, while Fiorina and DeVore said yes.

That caught Campbell off guard. “Oh, my goodness,” he said, sparking laughs.

“It’s called the Second Amendment, Tom,” DeVore said.

“That’s why Tom Campbell has kind of a poor rating from the National Rifle Association, right there,” Fiorina chimed in.

Campbell said someone should wait until he is off the no-fly list before buying a gun. Fiorina disputed that, saying that many people undeservedly land on the no-fly list, while DeVore said it would infringe on one’s right to a trial.

“That is not an infringement on anybody’s Second Amendment rights,” said Campbell, a former law professor at Stanford. “It seems somewhat unusual to take that position – except perhaps in a Republican primary.”

In the wake of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the three candidates stuck to their pre-spill positions. DeVore and Fiorina said they support more offshore oil drilling, and Fiorina said it was regrettable that the United States did not drill more in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Campbell said he does not support new offshore drilling but instead supports slant drilling from land into the ocean floor.

“I’ve always opposed putting new drilling platforms off the coast of California, and I’m very sorry to see what’s happening in the gulf,” Campbell said. “I think a position of consistency over the years should matter for something.”

In an often-tense post-debate news conference, Fiorina told reporters that she was accustomed to DeVore’s attacks.

“Chuck DeVore’s been doing that everyday since I announced my candidacy, so that’s pretty par for the course,” she said.

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