By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
At the "Women Making History" luncheon, as Boxer closes the proceedings by speaking about her upcoming bid for a second term in the Senate, everything she has to say about the tough fight ahead of her seems inconceivable, like shtick meant to pry loose generous contributions. Her re-election seems, if not guaranteed, at least reasonably certain. But by July a Field Poll will show cause for serious concern. For much of the time since then, she and her rival have been locked in a dead heat - even though no one seems to know much about 44-year-old Matt Fong, except that he's much more conservative than he feigns, has ties to Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, and is the son of the popular Democratic former state Secretary Treasurer March Fong Eu, and that his most valuable attribute is his opaquely pleasant demeanor. As a stack of AP wire stories will tell you, this just doesn't seem to be the year for being liberal, female and not too good at being all things to all people. How else does one explain Fong's popularity?
"Women pay the price for taking strong positions - that's just how society is," says Bob Mulholland, the campaign adviser for the California Democratic Party, who says Fong is "wet toast" and "missing a spine" (and that's before Mulholland gets warmed up). "She's fought hard. You know a lot of men don't like a woman who stands up and demands things that are right for the rest of society."
But Mulholland won't even pretend to have patience for the growing numbers who are pessimistic about Boxer's chances of triumphing: "People just wet their pants over this stuff - they think the worst if there's even one cloud in the sky. A lot of these same people thought that Clinton wouldn't get elected in '92, thought that he wouldn't get re-elected in '96 because Jack Kemp was going to be Dole's running mate. Where the hell is Jack Kemp today? She's won every election since '76 - and she'll win this one."
To be sure, Mulholland's got Boxer's track record straight. Still, she's never been up against the opponent she's facing on Tuesday, who is, of course, not Matt Fong, but herself. "She's a woman, a liberal and she's from San Francisco," says a prominent Democratic consultant. "All these are problems to a degree a and they reinforce each other."
Her voice booms scratchily from the speaker box of her attorney son Doug Boxer's Santa Monica security condo. "I'll be out in five minutes," she says, not realizing that the volume is cranked up enough that her news is now common knowledge. On most weekends during the campaign, around this same early-morning hour, a baseball-capped Boxer can be found getting her daily exercise, a portrait of determined brow and pumping elbows as she power-walks to the ocean and back. Saturdays and Sundays are also when Boxer gets to see her labor-lawyer husband, Stewart Boxer, who flies down to Los Angeles from their home in Marin County.
"We never spend the weekends apart, because we like each other," says Boxer, who prefers her son's upstairs guest room to staying in a hotel. "It wasn't like, 'How can we make this marriage work?' It was like, 'How can we make sure that we see each other as much as we can?' So the system we have is that we're together on the weekend, and then non-election years he comes out one week a month to D.C., just to stay there so I don't have to go back. And then every break, I spend in California."
In interviews, one on one, Boxer has a tendency to fidget and squirm, avoiding eye contact as she strings together carefully worded answers that often sound as if she's bracing for an argument even when she doesn't have to. The subject of "Stew," however, is a different matter. Ask a question about her husband of more than 30 years and her demeanor alters significantly. "I thought he was really cute, and I thought, 'Ach, this is a guy that I want to go out with,'" she says, leaning in and getting right down to the girl talk as she details their chance meeting near the tennis courts at Brooklyn College, where he was enrolled as a prelaw student and she was studying economics. "Then one day I was playing tennis, which I could never do that well, and the ball went off the court" - Boxer makes a high, arcing gesture with her right hand - "and then he picked up the ball and made a wisecrack, like, 'Keep it on the court,' and then next thing you know we were dating, and a year after that we were engaged, and two years after that we were married. I was only 21. And believe me, it wasn't as easy as it sounds. I was young, you know?"
She tells this story in mid-July, post-primary, sitting in the back seat of a rented blue Lumina driven by Vera deVera, one of Boxer's field representatives. Dressed in a black tweed pantsuit, with diamond studs glinting from her earlobes and a rope of Marge Simpson pearls around her neck, she looks every bit the U.S. senator right down to her ankles: Below that, Boxer remains steadfastly teenage. Having kicked off her shoes, she drapes her gray pantyhosed feet over any available piece of car furniture. Sometimes she presses them against the seat back in front of her, sometimes she rests them on a baby Igloo cooler on the floor. Often, when the Lumina pulls up to the curb for a campaign stop, she'll be holding up a pocket mirror and applying a fresh layer of brownish lipstick from the nub of a MAC tube while her tiny feet conduct a frantic search for her misplaced footwear.