For Sen. Barbara Boxer and her opponent Carly Fiorina, the battle in the next four months may be over two Californias: whether the state is a gloomy place where businesses are still struggling to survive or one that is about to turn the corner and become the bustling hub of the clean-energy economy.
In dueling appearances in the Los Angeles area Friday, both characterizations were on display as the Democratic senator and her Republican challenger offered starkly different visions of the progress of the recovery and their different plans to revive the economy.
For Fiorina, that meant a trip to a pizza business in Marina del Rey that supplies its products to local grocery stores and has been hit hard by the economic downturn.
Standing before a backdrop of a dozen workers who smoothed tomato sauce and sprinkled cheese onto pizzas moving down the conveyor belt, founder Patty Phillips said she had closed her Santa Monica restaurant after 20 years, laid off more than 40% of her workforce this year and forgone her own salary since December to keep the business afloat. "We are literally being taxed out of business," Phillips said.
Next up at the event was the owner of a an online consumer credit services company who said he was moving his business out of California to Arizona. He was followed by an electrical contractor who said his company had been "profit-free for 183 days."
"We are crushing small businesses and family-owned businesses every single day here in the state of California," said Fiorina, standing next to a sign that blared the May unemployment estimates for Los Angeles County — 588,000 — In enormous red lettering. "We are not just suffering through tough times … we are suffering through bad government policy: too much taxation, too much regulation, too many bureaucrats and not enough focus on job creation and getting off of these people's backs so they can create jobs."
After ticking off a stream of gloomy economic figures as she stood on the flour-dusted floor, Fiorina mocked Boxer's recent "jobs tour" around the state: "With all that terrible news I just gave you, Barbara Boxer has the gall to be declaring victory and traveling up and down this state saying the stimulus package has worked. Ladies and gentlemen, only a cynical career politician like Barbara Boxer could look at 588,000 unemployed people in the county of Los Angeles and declare victory."
But an hour later and 15 miles away at a plant that manufactures hybrid engine components in Torrance, Boxer was armed with a far sunnier set of economic statistics.
Greeting more than two dozen employees who lined up for her arrival, the Democrat applauded them for doing their part to help the U.S. reduce its reliance on foreign oil.
"We become energy independent, and we have clean air and we create jobs," she said clapping her hands. "Which is why I'm here!"
US Hybrid's president, Abas Goodarzi, who said he tripled his revenue and doubled his workforce last year despite the economic downturn, whirled the three-term senator around the factory floor, showing her hybrid trucks components that his company is manufacturing for the Taiwan postal service, yard tractors to move containers around the Port of Long Beach, and more energy-efficient engines for military trucks and helicopters.
Though Goodarzi said he had not directly benefited from the Obama administration's stimulus package, he estimated that a third of his business comes from government projects, including a competitive grant from the Environmental Protection Agency that provided part of the funding to help the firm develop the port's hybrid yard tractors.
In remarks after her tour, Boxer hailed the 17 jobs the company had added since 2009, asking employees at one point to applaud the fact that the firm is hiring. "We're going to get past this recession, job by job by job," she said, pounding the lectern for emphasis. "New people here, who are working here, show that — yes — it can be done."
After arguing that the U.S. needed to lead the world in development of wind and solar technologies, she added: "Feel that wind. Feel that sun. This is the hub of the clean-energy economy."
Earlier Friday morning, Fiorina dismissed as fiction new estimates by the Obama administration that the government's stimulus program had created or saved 3 million jobs. "I don't believe the numbers, and frankly I don't think most people believe the numbers," she said.
But Boxer, insisting that she had met hundreds of those workers, charged that "facts don't seem to play any role in Carly Fiorina's statements."
"The jobs from the economic recovery package are out there," Boxer said. "At some point in this campaign, I'd love to see Carly Fiorina meet the people that I've been meeting so she can shake their hands…. There's the reality, and there's the myth," she said.