Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and GOP challenger Carly Fiorina displayed sharp differences in their second debate Wednesday over a wide range of issues, particularly Republicans' call to repeal national health care reforms.
They clashed over other hot-button topics, including illegal immigration, the environment and abortion during an hourlong radio debate was hosted by KPCC Public Radio in Pasadena and La Opinion.
Unlike their joint television debate appearance, this debate was bi-coastal. While Fiorina was in Southern California, Boxer spoke from Washington, D.C.
Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard Co., said lawmakers missed an opportunity with health care reform to bring more competition to the insurance industry. She has said she would favor repealing the law if elected.
"When President Obama first stepped forward and said our goal was to, in his words, to make sure every American had access to quality, affordable health care, I cheered," Fiorina said. "But what have we done? What we have with this bill now is where people are being thrown off their insurance, premiums are rising."
Boxer, who is seeking her fourth term, said she would be open to amending the health care bill, but suggested Republicans have no plans to replace it with any reforms if it is repealed.
"When somebody says repeal and replace, watch out, because once it's repealed, you're not going to see a very quick replacement,' Boxer said.
The new health care law was signed by President Barack Obama in March and many consumer protection provisions kicked in last week. Under the new law, coverage for children with pre-existing conditions is guaranteed, lifetime dollar caps are eliminated, and insurers can no longer cancel policies retroactively for frivolous reasons when people get very sick.
Fiorina said health care could be improved by letting sicker patients without insurance coverage enroll in government subsidized programs referred to as high-risk pools.
"Let us subsidize a high-risk pool that would cost us a lot less money than this health care bill," she said.
Boxer pointed out that the health care bill Congress passed already authorized money for a high-risk pool, $5 billion overall. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has already signed AB1887 to secure federal funding to create a high-risk pool for California.
On immigration, moderators Patt Morrison of KPCC and Gabriel Lerner of the Spanish-language newspaper La Opinion, tried to get Fiorina to discuss what she would do about the millions of people here in the United States illegally. She did not answer directly.
"The problem right in front of us is that the border is not secure and we don't have a temporary worker program that works," Fiorina said
Boxer said she agreed that border security is important, but that it shouldn't be the sole focus when it comes to changes to immigration policy.
"She's pitting border security against everything else. As a matter of fact, she said anything else is a distraction. She doesn't want comprehensive immigration reform," Boxer said.
Boxer's stance might reflect the large advantage that she and other Democratic candidates enjoy among Hispanic voters. The latest Field Poll showed Hispanics favoring Boxer 48 percent to 29 percent.
Recent polls indicate Boxer has opened up a slight lead in the race. No other debates have been scheduled.
As the debate moved onto environmental issues, Fiorina was asked to identify an extreme environmental group that has aligned itself with Boxer as Fiorina had suggested during their first debate.
Fiorina, instead, said Boxer is beholden to campaign contributions from environmental groups. She noted Boxer's "refusal" to help tens of thousands in the Central Valley harmed by a reduction in the amount of water made available because of drought and restrictions designed to protect native fish.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Boxer is the top recipient of contributions from environmental interests and their employees -- $83,852 during the past two years.
Boxer said she was proud of that support.
While Boxer continued to highlight her opponent's view on abortion, Fiorina tried to assure voters that she would not introduce legislation to overturn Roe v. Wade. The former executive took issue with past comments from Boxer that Fiorina's anti-abortion position would lead to the criminalization of abortion.
"There are no circumstances under which a woman in California would be denied an abortion. She knows this very well," Fiorina said.
The senator did not back off, noting that overturning Roe v. Wade could eventually lead states to criminalize abortion.
"It means that women and doctors could be put in jail in any state of the union," Boxer said. "That is a fact."