Democrats across the country are fond of saying "anybody but Bush" for president. In the California race for the U.S. Senate, Republicans have a saying of their own: "anybody but Boxer."
Yet the GOP twice has failed to find that somebody who could defeat Boxer. This time, with Democrat Gray Davis (search) recalled as governor and replaced by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger (search), they hope Californians might be more accepting of a Republican challenger.
Boxer has heard it all before, even when she first campaigned for the Senate in 1992. She says she fully expects to confound her opponents again when she asks voters for a third term in November.
"They predicted that they would be able to beat me easily. They kept saying in each of those races that I was an easy one," Boxer said in an interview.
"I just think that the right wing, particularly, in the state, they don't understand what elections are about. They're really about where the people are, what are the values of the people, what are the needs of the people and who's going to fight for the people," she said. "And when all is said and done, they come to the conclusion that I'm there for them."
Competing for the opportunity to vanquish Boxer are four major Republican candidates. Former California Secretary of State Bill Jones is seen as the front-runner for the March 2 primary.
Jones, a Fresno farmer, was the GOP's only statewide officeholder at the time term limits sent him home. He has been endorsed by Schwarzenegger, House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif., and other party leaders.
Jones ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for governor in 2002, hampered in part by a strained relationship with the Bush administration over his prior support of Arizona Sen. John McCain for president. Dreier and other Jones backers insist that rift has healed.
The other leading candidates are former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin, former Los Altos Hills Mayor Toni Casey, and former state Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian.
Marin is campaigning on the argument that a Hispanic woman with moderate social views — including support for abortion rights — offers a new face for the GOP and the best chance against Boxer. A Mexican immigrant who was the highest-ranking Hispanic in the current Bush administration before stepping down, she has never before attempted a statewide run.
Casey has some backing in Silicon Valley but is a virtual unknown elsewhere. Kaloogian, an anti-tax activist who was an early backer of the gubernatorial recall, is appealing to the most conservative of Republicans.
Jones' campaign strategists said they would try to link homeland security and defense to economic security and jobs. They plan to cast Boxer as weak on all counts.
"Security issues are paramount in the public's mind right now ... and when you look at Barbara Boxer it's not simply that she's too liberal, it's that she in her voting record and her public comments is one of the most partisan Democrats in the country," said Sean Walsh, a Jones consultant.
Boxer has a ready response. She notes that she wrote bills to arm pilots and protect commercial aircraft from shoulder-fired missiles and pushed for more air marshals on planes.
"If you were to look at who's one of the leaders on homeland defense, I would be right up there," she said.
Boxer is widely regarded as one of the Senate's most liberal voices — and not just by Republicans. She led fights against the ban on what opponents call partial-birth abortion and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and she voted against the Iraq war resolution and President Bush's $87 billion funding request for Iraq and Afghanistan.
Boxer's stances have won her many allies, but she's never enjoyed the widespread popularity of California's senior senator, Dianne Feinstein, who takes more centrist positions. That makes Boxer's seat the more vulnerable of the two.
"The landscape is changing. We have the president with over 50 percent approval ratings in California. Governor Schwarzenegger is extremely popular. We have an effective Republican organization, which we haven't had in the past," Sundheim said. "All these things — they're different points, but they all add up to something that leads in the direction that we have a realistic shot."