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On the touchy topic of immigration, Mrs. Fiorina said the nation needs a better guest-worker system to help farmers fill jobs in places like the state’s Central Valley, and blasts Mrs. Boxer for casting the deciding vote to defeat one three years ago.

“When she cast that vote, she said that immigrants were a source of cheap labor that threatened the American worker. Barbara Boxer has been no friend of Fresno,” Mrs. Fiorina said during a campaign stop in the farm-oriented community 175 miles south of Sacramento.

“She has been no friend of the Hispanic community, and she has been no friend of the people of California.”

So, as the candidates travel the state sparring with each other on the stump, some conservatives say they’ve already seen enough of Mrs. Fiorina to have high hopes for her future.

“She really has communications skills like [Ronald] Reagan’s and whether or not she wins the Senate, she’ll become a national force — if she chooses to stay in politics,” said Stuart Epperson, Salem Communications chairman.