Fact-checking Carly Fiorina’s phoner

Republican U.S. Senate candidate and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina held a conference call with reporters a short while ago to trash-talk President Barack Obama’s visit to California today to raise money for incumbent U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., but not all of her facts stand up to scrutiny.

“The president is out here today because Barbara Boxer is vulnerable and the Democratic establishment is working overtime to prop her up in a way it has never done before,” Fiorina said, noting that along with last week’s announcement that Dianne Feinstein is chairing Boxer’s re-election campaign, “we are witnessing a rescue mission in action.”

Fiorina then said Boxer is vulnerable due to policies such as health care reform – “a cynical and partisan piece of work that was hastily written” – that President Obama has pushed with her support. But Fiorina doesn’t seem to grasp where most Californians stand on this. A Field Poll last month – just before the legislation passed – showed voters evenly split in their assessment of Obama’s handling of the issue of health care (45 percent approving and 45 percent disapproving), an improvement from January when more voters disapproved by a 53 percent to 39 percent margin. Even the latest poll from the somewhat rightward-leaning Rasmussen Reports shows that support for the health care reform plan is stronger in California than it is nationwide, with 50 percent of California voters thinking it’ll be good for the country – that’s 11 points higher than results found on the national level – while 41 percent think it’ll be bad.

Fiorina also noted public frustration over a national debt that has reached record levels under President Obama, yet failed to mention that the debt grew from about $5.73 trillion to about $10.63 trillion under Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, due in part to his tax cuts for the wealthy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Fiorina challenged Obama and Boxer to explain to voters exactly how the economic stimulus bill they championed is helping California. But Boxer has been proudly doing that for about a year; her website is replete with pages and news releases touting the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s tax relief, infrastructure spending and job creation for Californians.

Fiorina cited California’s still-high unemployment rate, 12.6 percent. But as the Obama supporters at Organizing for America would note:

jobs graph

“I don’t think the people of California are in any mood to extend Barbara Boxer’s contract to work for them in Washington to 34 years when her first 28 have been a total failure,” Fiorina concluded, saying she believes Californians are “angry and frustrated that these policies will do nothing but feed the growth of government by increasing taxes and costing jobs.”

I asked her how President Obama’s fundraising for Boxer is any more desperate than the fundraising that U.S. Sen. John McCain, whom California and U.S. voters rejected in Obama’s favor just 18 months ago, did for Fiorina here in California just two weeks ago.

“I think the president’s time is quite a bit different than any senator’s time,” she replied, noting she’s embroiled in a heated primary while Obama is stumping for Boxer way before the general election season. “I think his visit speaks for itself and I think the polls speak for themselves too.”

But those polls look better for Tom Campbell, Fiorina’s GOP primary rival, and for Boxer than they do for Fiorina.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • RR, Uninvited Columnist

    Your so-called facts merely chime in with the Dems’ line of argument. Carleton ain’t the sharpest politico out there but as of now Obama’s policies have done next to nothing to better the lives of most voters. The situation could improve by November, and let’s hope it will, but today things look lousy in most of this state.

  • monica

    Thank goodness for Obama!

    Obama’s policies have lowered the tax of 95% of the population; restored some of our political standing in the world; and stimulated an economy that crashed long before he ever took office! Granpa McCain would still be trying to tell us the economy is basically sound!

    8 years of the conservative agenda got us 10 billion in debt, a war we can’t win, and made the US a laughing stock on the world stage.
    I’ll take Obama ANY day!

    Thanks Mr. Richman for giving us ALL something to think about.

  • Elwood

    We get it, Josh. You support Boxer and all other Dems. They can do no wrong and the Reeps are ALWAYS wrong.

    And you’re up on Dem strategy:

    “It’s Bush’s fault!”

    What a pathetic campaign.

  • Josh Richman

    Sorry, guys, the numbers are what they are. Fiorina might have sound criticisms of the health-care reform package, but her assertion that Californians are holding it against Boxer/Obama isn’t borne out by the polls. She can complain about the national debt with good reason, but there’s no doubt where much of it came from. She can challenge Boxer to own up to the Recovery Act, but Boxer already has, and proudly continues to do so. And she can knock the current unemployment rate, of which nobody is fond, but there’s no doubt that there has been a turnaround since Obama took office. It’s not strategy; it’s just how things are.

  • Elwood

    “National Debt Up $2 Trillion on Obama’s Watch”


    You sure you wanna play this game?

    Even the lefties at CBS News can see the disaster coming.

  • Elwood

    “there has been a turnaround since Obama took office.”

    And a mighty fine one it is, too!

    See above.

  • Elwood


    “Monica’s” name link leads to an advertisement for a porn site.

    I guess Dimmiecrats just want to have fun.

  • Josh Richman

    Oops… Monica’s link has been deleted. Thanks for the catch, Elwood.

  • SheldonHall

    If Boxer is so great, why is the unemployment rate in Calif over 12.6 %

    Boxer has lost touch with her home State, and puts her personal agenda ahead of the best interest of California.

    If she loves California so much, then she should retire, write another novel,and let a new generation fix all the problems that she has been creating for so many years.

  • Mike F.

    Check the data at the Congressional Budget Office, Office of Management and Budget at http://www.cbo.gov/budget/historical.shtml.

    Bush increased the debt from $3.4T to $5.8T, which is approx. $0.3T a year. Obama on the other hand, went from $5.8T to $7.5T, which is $1.7T a year. Even though Obama’s only got one year under his belt, Obama’s increase is approx. 6 times the annual average that Bush contributed to the debt. Also, note that Bush’s largest deficit spending was in his last year of $458B, but Obama was at $1.4T, which is a 3 fold increase.

    Instead of relying on Organizing for America, a project of the Democratic National Committee, check out the following statistics from this State of California website: http://www.labormarketinfo.edd.ca.gov/?PageID=4&SubID=164

    Note that the unemployment rate in the country under Bush was at its greatest in 2003 at 6%. In 2008, the US unemployment rate was 5.8%. Under Obama, the US unemployment rate has risen to 9.3%. We haven’t seen it this high since 1983. In California, the highest unemployment rate under Bush was 9.2% in his last month as president (Dec. 2008). The highest rate outside of 2008 was 7.0% in May 2003. The March 2010 unemployment rate is 12.6%, as identified by Fiorina, which is the highest it is has been from 1976 to today. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the data beyond 1976 to determine when California last experienced this high of an unemployment rate.

    Next time, let’s rely on more non-partisan data sources.

    Boxer is in trouble, and it is not just because of the economy. It is because of her antics (ex. hearings with a General and then representative of the Black Chamber of Commerce) and very extreme, left-wing rhetoric.

  • Josh Richman

    Thanks, Mike, not only for weighing in but for doing so with some facts and figures to back up your position; I love seeing principled discussion here.

    Regarding the differences between our debt numbers, the U.S. Treasury site I used combines debt held by the public with intra-governmental debt, whereas I think you’re citing only debt held by the public. Even so, this site tells me the debt held by the public on Jan. 20, 2009 – the day Obama was sworn in to succeed Bush – was $6.3T. I see the $5.8T number you cited came from the CBO; I’m not sure how to reconcile the two.

    Yes, the debt has risen faster under Obama than it did under Bush; my point was that Fiorina was technically correct in saying the debt reached record levels under Obama, but disingenuous in suggesting it did so due to his actions alone. As for the rate of growth under Obama, he took office amid the worst economic freefall in many decades and, working with a Democrat-controlled Congress, he believed economists who advised that the best way to turn the economy around was with a huge economic stimulus package – of which more than a third, you’ll recall, turned out to be tax cuts: $237 billion for individuals and $51 billion for companies, out of the $787 billion total stimulus.

    Some say it should’ve been all spending, some say it should’ve been all tax cuts: a classic Democrat/Republican, liberal/conservative schism. But the Democrats were duly elected and in the driver’s seat at the time, so we got what we got, and now we – and on Election Day, they – will have to live with it.

    I’d guess the Dems are feeling more OK with that as this year goes on. While many would say the jury is still out on the stimulus’ ultimate efficacy, the employment situation has begun to turn around nationally. OFA is undeniably a partisan source, but its graph is based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

    True, California’s unemployment rate has been among the highest in this crisis; as of this month, only Michigan and Nevada are worse off, we’re tied with Rhode Island, and Florida and South Carolina are close behind. A lot of people are still hurting. But let’s not forget when this started — California’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate already was at 9.7 percent when Obama took office in January 2009, almost double the level (4.9 percent) where it had been two years earlier. (I got those numbers using this page.) And the EDD site to which you referred me says “California has gained jobs in each of the first three months of 2010, with gains over the period totaling 32,400 jobs.”

    Many people don’t understand or won’t acknowledge that national and state economies can’t turn on a dime – not only isn’t there an instantaneous fix to a recession like this, but it’s usually going to take longer to get out of it than it did to get into it, as unemployment is always a trailing indicator of economic recovery. Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel, I found a pithy explanation of what that means here:

    When recessions hit, CEOs respond to lower demand for products and services by laying people off. (They may think of it in terms of lowering costs, but generally speaking, firing people is one of the first items on The Frugal CEO’s To-Do List.) And the earlier and deeper the job cuts, the better the bottom line.

    But when the recovery comes, the last thing the successful company head wants to do is to get ahead of it with hiring. Economic downturns are fragile, and weathering an economic whipsaw with an expensive group of inexperienced new names on the payroll can be risky.

    So the successful business fires early and hires late, when the risk has diminished enough to make it worthwhile.

    That’s what makes unemployment a trailing indicator. The same impulse that pushed it up in the first place keeps it up until the recovery of the economy is a proven fact.

    As for Boxer’s rhetoric, perhaps you’re right; I don’t know. I guess we’ll see what voters remember and/or think is important in November.

  • Mike F.

    Thanks for the response Josh. If you ever listen to Bob Brinker, he too has said that any President cannot be totally responsible for the economy, there are just too many factors that are beyond their control. Brinker has said that our economy does better under a divided Congress and President (gridlock is good), the theory being that neither gets out of control and keeps each other in check. Perhaps that’s what we’ll get after the Nov. elections.

  • RR, Uninvited Columnist

    Bob is OK, but I think Hans Brinker had a better mind.