Could L.A.’s Transit Plan Become a Winning Campaign Issue for Boxer?

President Obama did triple duty last night for the re-election campaign of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), visiting three fundraisers to send a stark message about polls that show the environment committee chairman holding a single-digit lead against her GOP challengers despite a formidable cash advantage.

image6412968g.jpgSen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), at left, with the president last night. (Photo: AP/CBS)

In remarks from one appearance that were released by the White House, Obama touted Boxer’s "work to pursue a clean energy future" by helping to craft a climate change bill in the upper chamber — albeit one that was effectively supplanted by a non-cap-and-trade measure crafted by three other senators.

"California has been a leader in promoting hybrids and cleaner burning
fuels," Obama told the crowd, "and appropriately, you have in Barbara Boxer a subcompact
senator with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy."

But that energy may not be enough to propel Boxer to victory without a tangible win to tout for recession-weary Californians, as E&E News reported this morning. From its subscription-only writeup of the Obama-Boxer fundraising swing:

Shaun Bowler, a professor at University of California, Riverside, said
Boxer has three factors to blame for the uphill fight: an
anti-incumbent mood throughout the country; Attorney General Jerry
Brown’s (D) lackluster campaign for governor; and Obama’s sagging
approval ratings. …

To Bowler, Boxer needs to show evidence of a major victory before the
fall, but he is unconvinced that a climate bill would resonate with
voters.

Cue Antonio Villaraigosa?

The Los Angeles mayor has credited Boxer with bringing federal funding and momentum to L.A.’s transit system, and his push for expediting more than a dozen new projects under the "30/10" umbrella has given Boxer a new opening for transportation policymaking as the fate of a long-term federal infrastructure bill remains uncertain at best.

Even Republican lawmakers such as Rep. John Mica (FL), the senior minority member of the House transport panel, have indicated their willingness to work out a federal financing package for L.A. transit, perhaps through a combination of loans and grants. If Boxer can help hammer out that 30/10 deal despite the mired state of Congress’ six-year infrastructure measure, she would have a job-creating achievement to tout on the trail this fall.

Much depends on the state of negotiations over a new long-term infrastructure bill. Democratic leaders have promised Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) a vote on the legislation before year’s end, and Boxer has indicated she plans to release her version of the bill in the coming weeks. Would the task of taking up a transportation bill months ahead of the White House’s preferred timetable slow down Boxer’s progress on L.A. transit funding? Stay tuned …

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