SENATE/37"/mike1st/mark2nd

By HOWARD FINE

Staff Reporter

California's tight race for U.S. Senate is the classic liberal vs. conservative match-up.

Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer favors raising the minimum wage, clamping down on polluters and giving patients the right to sue their HMOs.

Republican challenger Matthew Fong wants to reduce taxes, loosen some environmental standards, and impose strict caps on corporate liability.

Given these differences, Fong would seem the likely candidate to garner strong business support. But California's corporate types generally have steered clear of Fong, who faces a cash shortfall as the neck-and-neck race enters its home stretch.

Through Sept. 30, federal campaign finance reports show that Fong had raised $7.8 million, leaving him with a limited budget for television ads in the campaign's closing days. Boxer, meanwhile, has raised $12 million.

"The business community may not care for Boxer, but they are not putting their money where their mouth is," said Tony Quinn, a Sacramento-based Republican consultant and advisor to the state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business. The NFIB, which is comprised mostly of small and mid-sized businesses, has endorsed Fong.

This cash shortage prevented Fong from pulling away from Boxer when her campaign was reeling from the impact of the Clinton scandal. Most polls now show the two candidates in a statistical tie, with the difference between the two less than the margin of error for the polling sample.

"There was a dip for Boxer," said Los Angeles-based Democratic consultant Joe Cerrell. "But now I think she has come back. Fong is not getting the infusion of money he needs."

Quinn said one reason for the lukewarm support by business is the lack of urgency.

"The economy is pretty good right now, and no one is suggesting that either house of Congress is going to go back into Democratic hands," Quinn said. "There is no great concern from business that something bad will happen if the 'wrong person' gets elected."

Also, because she is not in the Democratic leadership nor is she considered a "swing vote" on key issues as is California's other senator, Dianne Feinstein there seems to be less concern that any anti-business stances by Boxer would pose a real danger.

What's more, the candidates and media have devoted most of their attention to subjects of relatively little interest to business, such as abortion and gun control.

In interviews with the Business Journal, both candidates stressed their business credentials. Boxer said she helped bring federal contract dollars and transportation funding to the state during her first term in the Senate.

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