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Jones Comes Out Swinging at Boxer

GOP's Senate nominee criticizes incumbent on a list of issues, trumpets backing from governor.

March 11, 2004|Michael Finnegan | Times Staff Writer

FRESNO — Republican U.S. Senate nominee Bill Jones assailed Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer on jobs, the military, guns, abortion and oil drilling on Wednesday as he formally launched his campaign to oust her.

The former secretary of state framed his candidacy as a natural extension of the voter revolt that put Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger into office. From an airport tarmac here in his hometown, Jones repeatedly invoked the popular Republican governor, whose endorsement Jones views as a crucial asset in his race against Boxer.

"I'm bringing the same message of hope and optimism to the people of California to do the other half of what needs to be done: I'm going to make sure Washington matches up with the optimism that now has been renewed in Sacramento," he said.

Departing on a two-day swing across California's hot and hazy agricultural heartland, Jones, a farmer and rancher, opened his general-election campaign with appeals to his conservative political base.

An amateur pilot, he flew his single-engine Cessna from Fresno to Sacramento, where he criticized Boxer's record on jobs in a speech to insurance executives. Today, Jones plans to campaign at a lumber mill in the northern Central Valley.

In Fresno, Jones sought to blunt Boxer's attacks on his conservative leanings over 12 years in the state Assembly before his election to statewide office. Citing newspaper editorials that applauded his drive to protect voting rights when he was secretary of state, Jones said the strategy Boxer used to defeat previous rivals -- painting them as too right-wing for California -- would fail this time.

"If you want to talk about who's out of touch with California, her positions, I would argue, are far more extreme, when it comes to the people of California, than mine," he said.

Jones described Boxer as an ideological twin of the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

"Their liberal persuasion does not represent this valley -- in my opinion does not represent California," he said.

Jones strategists hope the backing of Schwarzenegger, a moderate, will expand the candidate's base, but the GOP nominee still faces steep challenges. Although he is seeking to lay claim to the governor's optimism, he has launched a starkly negative campaign to bring down an incumbent senator. His two decades in Sacramento are the antithesis of Schwarzenegger's outsider appeal.

Money is also a big problem for Jones. In a state where television advertising can cost $2 million a week, he had just $212,000 left in the bank on Feb. 11. Boxer had 25 times as much -- $5.3 million.

Polls taken in the weeks before he won the March 2 primary showed Boxer holding a double-digit lead over Jones. A Times survey of voters leaving the polls found 61% approved of her job performance, the highest rating of her two terms.

On Wednesday, Jones took the offensive on a gamut of issues. With 12 supporters lined up behind him on the Fresno tarmac, some carrying "This is Bill Jones Country" signs, he went after Boxer as small planes roared across the runways.

He accused her of failing to "reach across the aisle" to work with Republicans on protecting California's interests. He said her support for more taxes and more red tape "makes it untenable for jobs and opportunity in this great state." And with several veterans in the line behind him, Jones sought to cast doubt on her support of the military.

"She never saw a weapons system that she liked," Jones said. "And an awful lot of those systems are what helped us defend the peace around the world, in Afghanistan and other places."

Boxer campaign strategist Roy Behr called the volley of attacks "a perfect illustration that Bill Jones is out of touch, out of step with the state, doesn't understand its values, doesn't understand its views."

"Not a word about education, not a word about creating new jobs, not a word about making sure Americans have affordable healthcare," Behr said.

Boxer, he said, had supported a wide array of military projects and built a long record of working with Republicans.

In the nine days since Jones won the primary, Boxer has released a flurry of announcements that seem aimed, in part, at undercutting his attacks. Among them: She and a Republican senator, Elizabeth Hanford Dole of North Carolina, wrote a joint letter to a committee chairman voicing their concern over a measure that they said "would undermine states' rights on offshore oil and gas development and cause harm to ocean and coastal environments."

Boxer has sought to portray Jones as too conservative on oil drilling, guns and abortion. In response to questions Wednesday, he tried to turn Boxer's positions on those issues -- which polls suggest more closely represent the views of Californians than his -- into detriments.

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