California Republicans say Scott Brown's win in the Massachusetts special Senate election portends a conservative wave in November's midterm elections, and electoral doom for incumbent U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

But Democrats cite big differences between the Bay State and the Golden State, and Boxer's challengers have a much tougher row to hoe than Brown did.

California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring asked Tuesday whether Democrats "will finally start listening to the American people, who want taxes lowered, the debt retired, and government out of the way; or if they will continue to let the most radical elements of their party continue to determine the direction of the country. With Scott Brown's election, the opportunity to do the latter has just been cut short.

"Barbara Boxer can't be too happy with tonight's results," he said. "If Massachusetts can elect a Republican to the United States Senate in 2010, so can California."

Boxer's backers didn't need Massachusetts to know that 2010 presents a tough political climate, campaign manager Rose Kapolczynski retorted Wednesday.

"We have an economic recovery that's going more slowly than anyone had hoped and a more conservative off-year electorate," she said, also noting a historical pattern of the party in power losing seats in the first election after a new president takes office. "But we knew that from the beginning, so we've been preparing for a tough race and whether it's (Tom) Campbell or (Carly) Fiorina or (Chuck) DeVore, we're going to have a competitive general election."

Kapolczynski said most Californians know Boxer is "fighting for them," and so will fight for her in November.

Campbell took a characteristically mild tone on Brown's win, saying "the people have spoken, and clearly they want to change course. In this regard, I'm the only candidate for Senate with a proven record of fighting federal spending — a record that stands in very sharp contrast to Barbara Boxer's reckless abuse of our tax money."

Fiorina dug harder, challenging Boxer on Tuesday "to learn a lesson from tonight and become the 42nd vote on the side of California taxpayers, instead of for the special interests."

Fiorina pointed out "electoral similarities" between the two states. Democrats outnumber Republicans three-to-one in Massachusetts, she noted, while Democrats account for 44.6 percent and Republicans for 31.1 percent of California's voters; also, Democrats dominate both states' legislatures and congressional delegations.

But she didn't note that more than half of Massachusetts' registered voters decline to state a party affiliation — a much larger independent bloc than California's 20 percent. And Brown ran for a vacant seat, while Boxer is a three-term incumbent with a big name-recognition edge.

Shaky base?

Brown's victory seems to have been due in part to a disenchanted base — voters in Democratic urban strongholds stayed home in droves, apparently underwhelmed by President Barack Obama's and Congress' delivery on progressive promises — while Boxer remains favored by California liberals. For example, Robert Cruickshank, of Monterey, public policy director for the Courage Campaign, blogging Wednesday at the progressive Web site Calitics.com, praised Boxer and urged her to further shore up her base by working to jam health-care reform through Congress despite Republican opposition, while also getting tougher on banks bailed out by taxpayers.

"Barbara Boxer has a fight on her hands, but she also is prepared to win that fight. Campbell, Fiorina and DeVore will have a much tougher hill to climb than they think," he wrote.

Also, Kapolczynski said, "in a special election, every conservative in the country could focus on trying to capture that Senate seat, and they did. In November, they're not going to be able to have that single, laser-beam focus on one state."

Just six weeks elapsed between Massachusetts' special primary and general elections. California expects a bruising, costly GOP primary in June, while Boxer — with $7.2 million already in the bank and no primary challenge — will then have five months to blanket the airwaves with ads.

Bombs away

GOP strategist Dan Schnur, who directs the University of Southern California's Unruh Institute of Politics, said DeVore is the GOP contender most likely to attract the Tea Party-generated "money bombs" like those that buoyed Brown. Some believe Boxer in November would rather run against DeVore — an arch-conservative less likely to attract independent and crossover voters — than the wealthier Fiorina or the more socially moderate and experienced Campbell, although Schnur said each candidate has strengths.

A Rasmussen Reports poll of 500 likely voters conducted last week showed Boxer leading Fiorina by three percentage points; leading Campbell by four; and leading DeVore by six in head-to-head matchups. But sources said Wednesday that a forthcoming Field Poll will show Boxer with a 10-point lead over Campbell, and wider leads over Fiorina and DeVore.

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