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In a new ad, Fiorina seeks to make Boxer's 'Ma'am' moment famous

September 23, 2010 | 12:00 am

In a political season when many voters have shown contempt for incumbent leaders in Washington who they view as out of touch, Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina is launching a new television ad that portrays her opponent as an arrogant politician caught up in the trappings of power.

A week after her rival, Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, aired spots attacking her tenure as chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, Fiorina’s first general election ad uses campaign footage from a well-known exchange between Boxer and Army Corps of Engineers Brig. Gen. Michael Walsh at a hearing more than a year ago of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which Boxer chairs.

In the brief clip used by Fiorina’s team, Boxer has interrupted Walsh after he’s addressed her as ‘Ma’am’: “You know, do me a favor. Could you say ‘Senator’ instead of ‘Ma’am’? It’s just a thing. I worked so hard to get that title, so I’d appreciate it,” Boxer says to Walsh.

“Twenty eight years in Washington, and Barbara Boxer works hard for a title?” Fiorina says into the camera with a quick raise of her eyebrows. “I’ll really go to work — to end the arrogance in Washington.”

A close-up photograph of Boxer appears — her title prominently displayed on a name plate before her — above a closing slogan onscreen: “So wrong. Too Long.”

The exchange between Boxer and Walsh, which has been viewed on YouTube thousands of times, is often cited as shorthand by Republican voters in interviews when they explain why they dislike Boxer. Fiorina’s campaign laid the groundwork for the ad months ago, displaying the clip prominently on its anti-Boxer website and encouraging supporters to send their friends online postcards of it to mark the anniversary of the hearing.

The campaign called the footage “the 30 seconds Barbara Boxer doesn’t want you to see.” In a year when unemployment is above 12% and voters are impatient with the pace of the economic recovery, Fiorina’s strategists believe the moment exemplifies the argument that the Republican candidate has been making on the campaign trail—that after three terms in the Senate, Boxer has lost touch with average Californians.

Both Boxer and Walsh have said they’ve put the moment behind them. When asked about it during her first debate with Fiorina, Boxer said she’d called Walsh after the hearing to make sure she caused no offense.

“We were having a lot of back-and-forth. This was a formal hearing, so I made the call that I should call the general 'general.' And it would be better if he called me by my formal title," Boxer said.

In an interview with The Times earlier this year she called Walsh “a really good friend,” adding that she tries to use “formal terminology” when presiding over hearings.

In her own attack ad, Boxer has sought to portray Fiorina as a heartless chief executive with a multimillion-dollar salary who acquired five corporate jets while at Hewlett-Packard at a time when she was laying off thousands of workers. (The ad does not mention that the company retired four jets in the process).

“Californians are fed up with the arrogance of CEOs who take multimillion-dollar bonuses and golden parachutes while the middle class suffers,” Boxer’s campaign manager, Rose Kapolczynski, said in a statement.

“No wonder Fiorina doesn’t say one word about her own record in this ad.”

-- Maeve Reston in Los Angeles

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