Sen. Barbara Boxer and former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina squared off on jobs, global warming, immigration reform, gay marriage and other issues tonight in their first senatorial debate.

Boxer, D-California, told 400 people who filled an auditorium at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga that, “I’m in the Senate because I fight for people.”

The junior senator, who is up for re-election this November, said she has enacted 1,000 provisions during her 17-year tenure in Washington, D.C., including after-school programs.

She painted Fiorina as a Wall Street CEO who laid off thousands of workers and shifted many jobs to other countries such as China and India when she headed HP.

But Fiorina, the Republican nominee, said that under Boxer and other Democrats, California’s unemployment rate has soared to 12.3 percent and the nation’s budget deficit has grown to $13 trillion.

Fiorina said the nation’s economy “is being strangled by too much uncertainty and regulation” and alleged that the stimulus bill pushed by President Obama’s administration and Boxer “has manifestly failed.”

Fiorina defended her record at HP, which the company’s board of directors fired her from in 2005, saying, “Sometimes you have to make the tough decision to cut some jobs to save other jobs.” She said the company improved its performance during her tenure.

She also said she’s running for the Senate because she believes the country “is headed in the wrong direction” and that she’s “struck by the anger, frustration and fear” of people she talks to across the state.

One of many big differences between the two candidates were their positions on state Proposition 23.

The measure on the November ballot would suspend Assembly Bill 32, also known as the Global Warming Solutions Act, which was signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger in 2006 and would bring California into compliance with the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol.

Fiorina described AB32 as “a job killer in the short term” because of the heavy regulations it imposes, but she refused to say how she would vote on Proposition 23.
Instead, she said, “My focus is on a comprehensive national energy policy.”

Boxer said AB32 is a “crucial bill” and that if it is suspended, China and other countries will take the lead in solar energy and other clean energy programs.

After the debate, which lasted an hour, Fiorina told reporters, “I really enjoyed the opportunity to debate, and I hope it’s the first of many debates.”

She said, “What really matters in this election is that voters are concerned about jobs and out-of-control spending.”

Defending the stimulus plan, Boxer said some economists argue that if it hadn’t been passed, an additional 8 million jobs would have been lost across the country.

“We had a really good debate and the people of California saw the differences between us and that I’m fighting for jobs every day,” she said.

Boxer said she and Fiorina are planning more debates but declined to be specific, saying only, “We’re working on it.”

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