- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 2, 2005

To her detractors, Barbara Boxer, the diminutive Democratic senator from California, is an unladylike, publicity-seeking pit bull.

“A preening boob” is one of the nicer descriptions that one anti-Boxer blogger recently posted.

A senator who challenged election results in Ohio that clinched victory for President Bush and grilled Condoleezza Rice during her confirmation hearings, Mrs. Boxer intends to continue her role as the hellcat from the Left Coast.

Or in her words, “To be the best senator I can be, to stand up for the American people.” (For the record, Mrs. Boxer stands at 5 feet even and often uses a box to boost her stature during her floor speeches.)

To her supporters, her behavior is more brazen than bizarre.

“It’s just Barbara being Barbara,” one Democratic observer says. “I admire her. I think she has a lot of guts.”

The senator says the recent publicity stemming from her full-boil partisan positions has been more than welcome and raised her national profile — with hopes of assuming Democratic stalwart Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s mantle as party pooh-bah.

“My own reaction was that I was really surprised by how much notice [the confirmation hearings] got,” she says in a telephone interview. “I’ve been doing this forever. It got so much attention.”

And with the annual Gridiron Dinner — a night of stinging satire where the Washington press corps pokes a little fun at Congress and the White House — just weeks away, writers are honing their Boxer jokes.

The senator defends her tough comments and personal criticisms of Miss Rice, saying, “I showed the utmost respect for her by holding her accountable. I think it was a very respectful thing to do.”

Boxer jokes are making the rounds on Capitol Hill, and the senator was lampooned on “Saturday Night Live.” She was portrayed as disheveled and rambling, sitting at the hearing table with various props. The skit ends with a toy volcano erupting as Mrs. Boxer calls Miss Rice “Condoleezza lies a lot.”

“I never laughed so hard,” Mrs. Boxer says about the spoof. She was in California at the time, and her daughter, Nicole, called her to tell her about the skit.

“‘Stay up,’ she says. ‘You have to watch this,’” the senator recalls her daughter saying.

There was Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show,” who joked at the time that Miss Rice had made her first formal move at the State Department: appointing Barbara Boxer as ambassador to Fallujah — a former insurgent stronghold in Iraq.

And of course, the bloggers.

“Barbara Boxer is Barbra Streisand on peyote,” reads one.

“Old, burnt out, shrill and saggy looking,” reads another posting.

There also was a young man on EBay who recently held an online auction to raise money just so “Barbara Boxer would shut up.”

Fox News host Bill O’Reilly called her “a nut” on the air, and House Minority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, referred to her as the leader of the “X Files-wing” of the Democratic Party.

Nonetheless, a band of supporters is touting her for president, selling “Barbara Boxer ‘08” underwear on the Internet. They delivered 4,500 roses to her Capitol Hill office on Valentine’s Day.

For a woman who has never been considered a “Washington player” and hasn’t sponsored legislation that has made her a household name, Mrs. Boxer is the star of her own rough-and-tumble reality show.

Expect more fireworks from Mrs. Boxer in the coming months, as political issues heat up — especially the prospect of the Bush administration’s having the chance to nominate not one, but two Supreme Court justices.

Privately, top Democrats were surprised when immediately after her grilling of Miss Rice, the senator seized the moment to begin a Democratic fund-raising drive. In a letter asking for donations to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Mrs. Boxer wrote, “The Republicans were expecting the Senate to confirm Miss Rice with little debate and questioning from the Foreign Relations Committee. They didn’t count on me to ask the tough questions.”

The Republican Party immediately criticized her for it, calling it “self-aggrandizing fund-raising letters proudly bragging about their obstructionism.”

As for the Republican Party’s painting the Democratic Party as out of touch with the American people, Mrs. Boxer says, “I don’t buy it. If anything, we’re a big broad umbrella. I never view it as left versus right. I view it as: ‘Which side are you on?’ ”

Still, Mrs. Boxer is viewed as left of the left. Pro-abortion, pro-homosexual rights and a staunch environmentalist, the liberal Americans for Democratic Action gave her 2003 voting record 95 out of 100 points.

Born in New York, Barbara Levy graduated from Brooklyn College in 1962 with a degree in economics. She married Stewart Boxer 43 years ago. She worked as a stockbroker before the couple moved to California and settled in Marin County, north of San Francisco.

She first served as a district aide to Rep. John Burton, and in 1976, was elected to the Marin County Board of Supervisors. She is the mother of two: a son, Doug, and daughter, Nicole. In 1982, she successfully ran for Congress from California’s 6th District. In 1992, she was elected to the Senate.

“They always predicted I would lose,” Mrs. Boxer says of her many campaigns.

In November, she was re-elected to a third six-year term. She won by the third highest vote total in the 2004 elections. Says she: “It was a beautiful feeling.”

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