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
Even if Boxer wins the upcoming election, she says, "This is my last time running for the Senate." After that, she doesn't know what she'll do. "There might be other elected offices - or maybe I'll become a teacher or a writer or have a radio talk show," says Boxer, who filed stories for Marin County's Pacific Sun newspaper in the '70s and worked the graveyard shift as a fill-in talk-show host on KGO. "You don't know in politics when your days will be up. It's up to someone else, not you. But I definitely see myself doing other things, because I've done other things and enjoyed them."
However willing she is to contemplate the civilian life, she still has the internal wiring of a career politician. Suddenly, something inside of Boxer tells her to glance at her wristwatch, the sight of which makes her snap upright. It's time for her next stop. "Let me put my shoes on," she says. Then out comes the MAC lipstick nub, and her feet start dancing around on the floor.
If any single person can be held accountable for Barbara Boxer's remarkable mid-campaign reversal in the polls, it is Bill Clinton, whose support the candidate once counted among her chief assets. Of all the Democratic candidates for the Senate running in all of this year's races, none has had to take quite as big a hit as Boxer for the president's conduct with Monica Lewinsky.
In part, that is because since Boxer was first elected to Congress in 1982 she has been a visible and outspoken advocate of women's issues, creating a series of vivid images many voters can click through in their minds like a living-room slide show: There she is, standing behind a flapping banner at the forefront of countless pro-choice rallies; there she is, angrily decrying Tailhook. There she is, alongside her old friend Pat Schroeder as they and five other congresswomen head grimly toward the Senate to demand a delay in the vote on the Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas. There she is, on the Senate floor, the first to call for the resignation of dirty diarist Bob Packwood, the Republican former senator from Oregon.
Another Boxer moment, though never illuminated by the flashing strobes of news photographers, is equally relevant. In 1994, at a ceremony held at the White House, Boxer's cherished second child, Nicole, married first lady Hillary Clinton's cherished younger brother, Tony. And so it was that Boxer didn't lose a daughter, but gained a son-in-law and decreased her degrees of separation from the Leader of the Free World by two. But maybe it would have been easier if Nicole had hooked up with a soap-opera star or a strawberry picker.
In the spring, just as Boxer's race began in earnest, the first strains of the Clinton-Lewinsky opera began to resound. There weren't many threads that connected Boxer's outrage over the previous sexual-harassment cases with the president's well-publicized adultery (where were the victims charging misconduct?). Nevertheless, she was expected to have an opinion on the case. And that's when things got tricky. Would you want forever to put a pall on the family get-togethers because you pointed a finger at your daughter's sister-in-law's husband before you were 100 percent sure you had good reason? Still, she had to know that those vivid images were popping up in the minds of the people - or at least in the minds of Republicans, who could twist her silence on the subject, taking it to mean that she held men of the opposing party to one standard and Democratic men to another. And, of course, there were the media.
In late May, at the DC3 restaurant, adjacent to Santa Monica Airport's Museum of Flying, for example, Boxer was hosting a cocktail reception for the first lady. She was grinning as she strode into the upstairs anteroom, where a handful of journalists and a TV crew gathered for a quick press conference.
"Any questions?" she asked, after which an uncomfortable silence filled the room.
"I guess I'll start," a television reporter finally piped up, then asked Boxer what she thought about the president and his erstwhile intern. Boxer's mouth tightened a little bit, but by the time she'd finished aiming her brown eyes into the camera and deflecting, saying, "I'm a United States senator of California, and my whole function is to fight for the people I represent . . .," her smile was back.
She was getting on a roll, fielding queries about the then-undecided primary, even holding forth about the upcoming millennium, of all things. So when a cub reporter in rumpled khakis stood up from his folding chair, she beamed at him, giving him one of her direct looks so that he knew he had her full attention.
"You're pretty much an unabashed supporter of President Clinton," he said, pen poised over his note pad. "But what about Kenneth Starr?"
On that day, she seemed frustrated by the follow-up query, not knowing that in the months to come facing down only a couple of Clinton questions would begin to seem like a pleasure. Even now, she hasn't learned to fully mask her vexation as she fights to get her message out to newspeople who show up at her public appearances only to piggyback on the national scandal, to use her as a local hook. No one asks about her five-point education plan or her Health Insurance Patient's Bill of Rights or her opposition to new offshore drilling or her support of the ban on junk guns and copycat assault weapons. She doesn't even get to talk about her 1996 amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act that requires the EPA to set drinking-water standards to protect children - or how Matt Fong wants to roll back the national environment laws.