The Republicans who want California Sen. Barbara Boxer's job sparred over expanded offshore oil drilling and gun rights Thursday in a debate that became a spirited competition over conservative credentials.
Former Congressman Tom Campbell, former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and State Assemblyman Chuck DeVore found much to agree on as they sought support from conservatives who will make up the bulk of the voters in the party's June 8 primary election.
Each signaled support for Arizona's new immigration law, opposition to Washington's health care overhaul and frequently criticized the Democratic incumbent and President Barack Obama's policies.
But there was also friction on key issues. Just days after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he would withdraw his support for expanded oil drilling off the California coast, Fiorina and DeVore disagreed with the move. Campbell said he opposed new offshore platforms.
Campbell also was the only candidate to say citizens' ability to buy a gun should be suspended if they are placed on the airline "no-fly" list. Fiorina and DeVore said the list is not reliable for making judgments about a person's Second Amendment rights.
"I can't believe what I am hearing," Campbell said.
Fiorina replied that Campbell "is far too close to Barbara Boxer for my taste."
Boxer won in a 20-point landslide six years ago but acknowledges her re-election is in doubt. Polls show Obama's popularity is slipping and even Democrats concede Republicans are in line to make gains this fall when 36 Senate seats and all 435 in the House are on the ballot.
In a year when voters want change Boxer is seeking a fourth term, and incumbents nationwide are in danger with voters weary of high jobless rates and the slow recovery from the recession.
Boxer, who faces only token opposition in the primary, has stockpiled nearly $9 million for the race. The most recent records available show Fiorina had $2.8 million in the bank at the end of March, Campbell had $1.1 million and DeVore had $412,000.