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Senate candidates try persuasion by telephone in the final stretch

June 6, 2010 |  8:36 pm

As the Republican Senate race drew to a close, Carly Fiorina and Tom Campbell made their final pitch to voters via telephone -- with each arguing that they would be the tougher opponent for Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Chasing Fiorina, who has opened a double-digit lead according to this week's Field Poll and the earlier Los Angeles Times/USC poll -- Campbell attempted to reach thousands of likely voters through an automated call that dialed 200,000 of them and asked them to stay on the line for a live exchange with the candidate.

For an hour and a half, Campbell took questions on illegal immigration, taxes, school vouchers and his solutions for stopping the outsourcing of American jobs to China and India. Throughout the call, Campbell repeatedly made the argument that he was the most electable Republican contender -- citing the findings of the L.A. Times/USC poll, which showed him ahead of Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer in a general election contest.

“Both of my two primary opponents lose to Sen. Boxer -- one loses by six and the other by 10,” said Campbell, who was speaking to voters from his home in San Jose. “If we wish to replace Sen. Barbara Boxer -- and I surely do -- we’ve got to focus on this historic opportunity to do so.”

Campbell contends that his moderate social views would make him a more palatable candidate than his two rivals to independent voters, and some of them joined him on the line Sunday. Joni Zunino, a 56-year-old independent from San Rafael, told Campbell she was looking for a candidate who would support President Obama on some issues and would not be aligned with “obstructionist” Republicans.

“Can you not be part of the Republican bloc, and be a free thinker and work for the people of the United States rather than the corporations?” she asked.

“I’m not in this to score points for the team,” Campbell replied. “I’m in this to do what’s right. And I think any fair evaluation of the nine years I had in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the two years I had in the state Senate, and when I was [state] finance director will show that.”

Fiorina spent Sunday visiting her volunteers at campaign phone banks in San Luis Obispo and Montecito. At the phone bank at a real estate office in Montecito, supporters greeted her with a box of Santa Maria strawberries and a jar of homemade raspberry jam.

As Fiorina made the rounds -- posing for photographs, giving hugs and signing her autobiography -- volunteers continued calling voters with their pitch that Fiorina was the “conservative candidate who could beat Barbara Boxer.”

One volunteer told Fiorina that she’d been won over by her comments during an earlier visit to a Montecito Republican women’s club that it would “take a woman to unseat that woman.”

“Well sometimes, you know, you’ve got to fight like a girl,” Fiorina said, laughing.

Terry Swann of Santa Barbara told Fiorina that she began following her career more closely a year ago when Fiorina was sporting a short, cropped haircut after a bout with breast cancer. “I really respected you for getting in front of a national camera with no hair. I thought, if that were me, I wouldn’t be caught dead. It showed me that you had the courage and what it takes,” Swann told her. 

When one volunteer reached an undecided voter, Fiorina took over the call and listed her outsider credentials -- promising that she would be different from “professional politicians” who have been in Washington so long that “they’re not accountable anymore.”

“I’ve never run for office before,” Fiorina told the Santa Maria voter. “I’m doing this because I think this is a really pivotal time, because I think the work of the Senate now impacts every family and every business in America.  And I don’t want to go there forever, I want to go there for a period of time to bring the things I’ve learned from the real world to bear -- you know, a little bit of common sense.”

Fiorina marked down that voter as a “yes.” But, she said: “We take nothing for granted, not a single vote.”

-- Maeve Reston in Montecito