LOS ANGELES, CALIF. - When she took the stage in the jammed ballroom of the Renaissance Hotel in Hollywood shortly after 11pm to claim her fourth term in the Senate, Barbara Boxer’s victory speech touched on issues foremost on her agenda: immigration, jobs and the economy, women’s rights, gay rights, and the plight of returning war veterans.
But as a close survivor of the tsunami of voter resentment against incumbent Democrats in Congress, Boxer made no mention of foreign policy or of issues facing Israel.
That may be instructive for the Jewish community as the mid-term election results shape the political scene for the next few years. Indeed, for Lucia Marano, an actress and business owner of Italian-Jewish descent who had joined Senator Boxer’s campaign in her first foray as a political campaign volunteer, the experience was personal and local. “Boxer speaks to me, to my concerns,” she said. Around her the crowd swayed to Cartaya’s Enclave, a Latin-Jazz combo playing “Oye Como Va,” and long lines of thirsty Democrats snaked toward the two cash bars. Her husband, Enrique Valdez, a Mexican-American entrepreneur, remarked on the diverse crowd in the room. “Asian, Black, Latinos,” he said. “You won’t find that with the Republicans.”
Raphael Sonenshein, chairman of the political science department at California State University, Fullerton, believes that Israel and foreign policy generally will have less importance in the coming congressional power struggles than domestic issues, mainly the economy; that is, unless matters should change on the ground and the Middle East erupts into the headlines. “Obama will have less room to push for negotiations,” Sonenshein speculated.
Nevertheless, said Sonenshein, Boxer’s survival in this election had a lot to do with California and its large and politically active Jewish community. While another liberal Democratic Jewish Senator, Russ Feingold, lost his seat in Wisconsin, Boxer’s win owed a lot to the fact that “She’s a recognizable Jew in a state with a strong Jewish vote –California is still blue.” In comparison, Wisconsin’s blue runs more to its cheeses than politics.
California’s blue fervor was evident in the ballroom after a long evening waiting for precincts to report in. Among the patient crowds, a sprinkling of Hollywood celebs, including the ubiquitously liberal Ed Begley, Jr., mingled behind the velvet rope in the VIP area in front of the stage. Around 11:15 California’s other liberal female senator, Diane Feinstein, took the stage to huge applause. She first introduced Boxer’s family, and then Boxer herself. With Cartaya’s Enclave rocking “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” the five-foot tall senator burrowed through the throng with the aid of several large attendants, finding her way to the stage. It was the climax to the “roughest, toughest campaign of my life,” and her 11th straight electoral win, she proclaimed. “And what a sweet one it is!”
Though her opponent had not yet conceded, the crowd roared its approval. With Jerry Brown redux as governor, and two liberal Democratic senators on Capitol Hill, California was bucking the trend. But how Boxer would steer the stormy Beltway waters ahead and how California, the nation’s liberal bulwark, would stay the course are daunting questions. Boxer warned the crowd, “Now the politics end and the governing begins.”