The California governor's race seems to grow more cynical with every passing day, a contest about polls and money and strategy in which both candidates are running away from the reality that is the state's dysfunctional mess.
Here's the good news: the U.S. Senate contest is shaping up as something else entirely. And that's a very good thing for California.
As the incumbent U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer takes to the campaign trail this week, she is forcefully defending not only the federal stimulus bill but also the the approach of using government spending to boost demand in bad economic times. Her Republican challenger, the former executive Carly Fiorina, has been attacking the stimulus as wasteful and unproductive (though, in the next breath, she does favor some stimulus measures, particular targeted tax cuts and tax holidays).
Let's hope that Boxer and Fiorina keep at it, because this should be the central debate in California politics today: How do we best revive the economy in a way that produces jobs? The Boxer viewpoint is in some sense the classical conservative one: that when consumer spending and demand slacks, the government should step in. Fiorina seems to be siding with the counter-argument that the government borrowing needed to do stimulus is itself destabilizing, as businesses decline to invest because of concerns about future taxes and other changes that may be needed to pay for the borrowing.
Let's hope that Boxer and Fiorina stay focused on this subject and get into the details. If they do, Californians would be wise to tune out the gubernatorial noise and pay close attention to this race.