By Jack Chang
jchang@sacbee.com
Published: Thursday, Sep. 30, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Thursday, Sep. 30, 2010 – 6:23 am

PASADENA – The second debate between Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and Republican challenger Carly Fiorina erupted Wednesday into charges that each candidate was too extreme for California.

The two women took contrasting stands on abortion, health care reform and climate change legislation.

Still, Boxer and Fiorina struck a less combative tone than during their first debate on Sept. 1, when they spoke just a few feet away from each other on stage at St. Mary’s College in Moraga.

This time, the candidates debated about 2,600 miles apart, with Boxer in a National Public Radio studio in Washington, D.C., and Fiorina at public radio station KPCC-FM in Pasadena. The debate was broadcast on public radio stations statewide.

Debate moderators Patt Morrison and Gabriel Lerner also frequently interrupted the candidates’ attempts to recite talking points and attacks, so much so that some of the afternoon’s most animated exchanges were between the candidates and their moderators.

Boxer repeated criticism of Fiorina, which she used to her advantage during the first debate, that the Republican former CEO of tech company Hewlett-Packard had shipped thousands of jobs overseas. Boxer has also highlighted Fiorina’s corporate record in her TV commercials.

Recent public opinion polls show Boxer building a slight lead over Fiorina, and the Democrat claims a healthy fundraising advantage over her opponent.

When Lerner asked Boxer on Wednesday to stop talking about Hewlett-Packard, the three-term senator responded, “Wages are set by the private sector. … The fact is (Fiorina) is still supporting tax breaks to companies who shift jobs overseas. So this is a very relevant conversation.”

Boxer said she supported ending tax breaks for U.S. companies that move jobs overseas and backed climate change legislation that she said would stimulate the creation of green jobs.

Some of the clearest differences – and most heated debate – between the two candidates centered on hot-button issues such as abortion, the environment and health care reform.

Fiorina said she was against abortion but disputed Boxer’s charges that she wanted to “criminalize” women seeking abortions. Asked about the distinction during a news conference after the debate, Fiorina declined to explain how being anti-abortion was not the same as wanting to criminalize the practice.

“Barbara Boxer engages frequently in a shocking misrepresentation of my record, but nowhere is that more unconscionable than in her assertion that I support the criminalization of abortion,” Fiorina said during the debate.

Fiorina added later that Boxer was trying “to change the subject from her own extreme views which are that a baby doesn’t have rights until it leaves the hospital.”

Boxer hit Fiorina’s opposition to health care reform, while saying she was open to adding a public option to the reform plan.

“My opponent says let’s put high-risk pools in place,” Boxer said. “I don’t think she understands that that is in place now.”

They also clashed on immigration, with Fiorina slamming Boxer for casting a key vote in 2007 for an amendment phasing out a guest worker program.

“When she cast her vote that destroyed the guest worker program, her comment was that immigrants are a source of cheap labor that threatens the American worker,” Fiorina said.

Boxer responded that “the temporary worker program that my opponent supports and that I opposed was so draconian that one of the newspapers said it was indentured servitude.”

She said the program forced temporary workers to leave the country after two years, and would have created more illegal immigration because “people simply would have gone underground.”

Fiorina moved quickly in the one-hour debate to lay out her plan to rein in what she said was an out-of-control federal bureaucracy. She also avoided spending time defending her record at Hewlett-Packard, as she had done in the first debate.

As part of her federal reform package, she said she would institute a spending cap set at the 2008 federal budget level, freeze federal pay, and hire one person for every two leaving federal government service. She also proposed letting taxpayers dedicate 10 percent of their tax dollars specifically to pay down the national debt.

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