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California and the West

Boxer Looks to Clintons' Help on Stump

Politics: Despite criticizing president's affair, she will welcome first couple's aid in raising funds for her tight race.


WASHINGTON — Although she believes a congressional vote to censure President Clinton would be unanimous and talks about impeachment proceedings as practically inevitable, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) will nonetheless welcome Clinton and his wife on the campaign trail this fall.

In part, it is because Boxer does not think the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal matters much to voters in California. And in part, it's because her reelection bid is desperate for dollars that only the first couple can raise.

"It will be the race of my life," Boxer said Wednesday at a lunch with political reporters.

With polls placing her neck-and-neck with her little-known challenger, Republican state Treasurer Matt Fong, the incumbent said she would spend "as much as I can," probably pumping more into television ads than the $5 million she did in 1992. "I'd like to spend more," she said. "We're planning to spend more."

One day after she took to the Senate floor to denounce Clinton's behavior as "immoral" but repeat her support for his policies, Boxer was steadfast in her position: Having sex with an intern and lying to the American people are definitely wrong, but Clinton has been good for California.

"I feel it's my obligation to work with the president--I like to work with him," said Boxer, whose daughter is married to First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's brother.

An outspoken feminist who led the charge against Republican politicians accused of sexual harassment and abuse of women at work, Boxer has been dogged by accusations of hypocrisy in her reaction to the Lewinsky story since it broke in January.

"I don't think enough people give enough credit to the people of California," she said when asked whether the scandal would hurt her in November. "To the extent that nobody seems to print anything but the Monica story," she acknowledged, "it hurts me."

She noted, for instance, that on Labor Day, she hit Fong hard on his opposition to raising the federal minimum wage and on other subjects. But the buzz has been all about her believing that Clinton should be reprimanded.

So, too, conversation at Wednesday's luncheon continually veered back to Boxer's distinction between public and private morality, her thoughts on whether Clinton should resign or be impeached and how the whole mess might affect her No. 1 priority: getting reelected.

Perhaps most telling was Boxer's presumption--hours before independent counsel Kenneth Starr's 36-box report was dumped on Capitol Hill--that impeachment proceedings are forthcoming. In repeatedly refusing to comment on impeachment for fear such a statement would disqualify her from participating in the process (the same position taken by Fong), Boxer made an impeachment inquiry sound like a foregone conclusion.

"It makes me very sad--but I think the American people are very sad," Boxer said when asked how her personal relationship with Clinton had been affected by his admission of infidelity and dishonesty. Asked whether she believes Clinton when he says he never told anyone to lie, the senator said only, "We'll know that when we see the [Starr] report."

Popping an occasional grape into her mouth, Boxer said she would blame only herself if--as analysts are anticipating in many races across the country--turnout among Democrats and women plummets this fall in California.

"We could have another Year of the Woman as a result of all this--we could have the opposite," she said. "Will women stay home or will they say, 'Maybe we need some more women in the Congress?' We'll see."

Boxer reprised her Senate speech distinguishing between private morality--say, cheating on your wife and lying about it--and public morality on issues such as health care reform and disease research. But when challenged, she struggled to defend the distinction, refusing to say whether lying to the American public was a matter of private or public morality.

"If you're lying about your private behavior, I think it's different [from] if you lie about selling arms to the Contras," she said finally. "I don't think [Clinton] should have lied to the public. If [he] told others to lie, that's breaking the law--that's public morality."

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