ORINDA - U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer had harsh words for an electoral rival and sparse hopes for a quick solution to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill during a Recovery Act victory lap Thursday at the Caldecott Tunnel's fourth-bore dig site.

Boxer, D-Calif., held a news conference outside the tunnel's east portal, on the triangle between Highway 24's lanes. Amid a low roar of passing traffic and construction equipment, she praised the federal government's economic stimulus investment -- $197.5 million, out of a total project cost of about $420 million -- that will create up to 4,500 jobs over the next four years while relieving one of the East Bay's key traffic bottlenecks.

The Recovery Act is "putting Californians to work right here, right now," she said, backed by local officials and about a dozen hard-hatted, reflector-vested construction workers. "We all know how important job creation is in California and right here in the Bay Area."

The campaign of former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, whom polls show in the lead for the Republican nomination to challenge Boxer in November, issued a statement later Thursday.

"Barbara Boxer's claim to have created jobs in this state would be laughable if the reality of unemployment for millions of Californians were not so devastating," Fiorina spokeswoman Julie Soderlund said, adding Boxer has a track record of voting for higher taxes and bigger government.


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"Nearly 13 percent of Californians are without a job. Her hollow election year grandstanding today underscored that politics are much more her forte than producing actual results -- which probably explains her vulnerable standing in the polls."

Fiorina released a television ad Wednesday mocking Boxer's 2007 identification of climate change as a national security issues. "Terrorism kills, and Barbara Boxer is worried about the weather," Fiorina said in the ad.

But Boxer on Thursday said Fiorina is contradicted by military and intelligence experts who say climate-induced crisis could bring political instability and increased terrorist activity worldwide. Fiorina, she noted, presided over a company that did business with Iran, a state sponsor of terrorism; opposes barring gun purchases by people on the "no-fly" list of suspected terrorists; and opposed the Recovery Act, which provided funding for airport security screening and other Homeland Security needs.

"She's very, very weak on terror," Boxer said.

On the BP oil spill now trashing the Gulf of Mexico's ecology and economy, Boxer said President Barack Obama "is really focused on this," with National Guard units and other workers mobilized across four states and a Justice Department investigation underway.

But because BP obtained a drilling permit from the Bush Administration after guaranteeing it could deal with a disaster such as this, "it's very hard for anybody else to jump in and fix the problem," she said. "There's no lack of will or lack of focus but this is BP's misrepresentation" and the company must be held responsible. "We have a lot of reforms to do here."

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