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Antonio Villaraigosa

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, saidBoxer has three factors to blame for the uphill fight: ananti-incumbent mood throughout the country; Attorney General JerryBrown's (D) lackluster campaign for governor; and Obama's saggingapproval ratings. ...

To Bowler, Boxer needs to show evidence of a major victory before thefall, but he is unconvinced that a climate bill would resonate withvoters.

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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