SAN FRANCISCO -- On the eve of her only scheduled debate with the Republican challenger who is nipping at her heels, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer said she doesn't worry about her re-election chances.

"I just work hard and I don't take a breath," she told the Commonwealth Club of California on Tuesday. "Let me put it this way: It's not about hair; it's about real issues that matter."

That was basically the only jab that Boxer, D-Calif., took at GOP nominee Carly Fiorina, who in June was caught on an open microphone mocking the three-term senator's coiffure.

Boxer mainly spoke about jobs, the economy and California's future, casting this as "a critical time in our nation's history."

Too many people remain unemployed and progress in rebuilding the economy has been too slow, she said, pledging to work to get the state and nation back on track.

"We simply can't go back to the policies that got us into this mess," she said.

She said the Clinton administration's wise investments and tax cuts for working families led to budget surpluses and 23 million new jobs, while the Bush administration's trickle-down economics based on tax cuts for the rich produced huge deficits and the worst job-creation record since President Herbert Hoover.

Boxer said that Congress began correcting those missteps by approving the Troubled Asset Relief Program to stabilize the financial sector; the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act economic stimulus to help prevent the loss of an additional 8 million jobs; the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act to give tax breaks to companies that hire unemployed Americans and to revitalize funding for highway projects; a Wall Street reform bill to curb the excesses of the past decade; an extension of unemployment benefits to keep food on families' tables and fuel local economies; and a state-aid package protecting 160,000 teachers' jobs.

Boxer listed five more things that she thinks must be done to aid the struggling economy. First, she said, California must be made a hub of the new clean-energy economy, and that means defeating Proposition 23's bid to roll back the state's landmark greenhouse gas emissions law, placed on the ballot in large part by oil and coal concerns.

Second, she said, the state's $23 billion coastal economy must be protected from the potential devastation of oil spills like the one this spring in the Gulf of Mexico. Boxer, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and the senators from Oregon and Washington are pushing a bill to ban oil drilling.

Third, she said, small businesses must have access to credit, as they've created 64 percent of all new jobs over the past 15 years. Boxer said the Senate needs one more vote to break a Republican filibuster of a bill that would set up a deficit-neutral, $30 billion fund for community banks to make loans to small businesses.

Fourth, she said, the government must not be afraid to spend on improving roads, bridges and transit, which both create jobs and provide safer infrastructure for commerce.

And fifth, she said, the government must stop giving tax breaks to any companies that move jobs overseas.

"In true Barbara Boxer fashion, she is trying to play the blame game in an effort to run from her nearly three decades of failure in Washington where she has supported more than $1 trillion in higher taxes, onerous regulations that hurt small businesses and kill jobs and run up the national debt to record levels all the while more than doubling her own salary," Fiorina spokeswoman Julie Soderlund said later Tuesday.

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