Boxer Faces Anti-Incumbent Tide in Blue Calif.

Updated at 9:34 p.m. ET

The battle for control of Congress will come down to dozens of races the CBS News Election Team has designated critical contests that could go either way.

In the House, Republicans need a net gain of 39 seats to reach 218 and get the majority. At this point, their chances look good. They'll have a much tougher time winning the Senate.

There they need to hold onto the 41 seats they have and pick up 10 now held by Democrats. Their targets include vulnerable incumbents: Harry Reid of Nevada, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Patty Murray of Washington and Barbara Boxer of California.

A poll out Tuesday shows Barbara Boxer with a nine-point lead over Republican challenger Carly Fiorina.

Calif. Senate: Boxer (D) v. Fiorina (R)
CBS News Complete Coverage: Election 2010

CBS News senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield reports Sen. Boxer was on friendly turf Saturday, at a rally on the Santa Monica coast with a dash of Hollywood thrown in. TV's "Rhoda," actor Valerie Harper, was in attendance.

But the climate for Boxer has turned chillier this year -- as she seeks her fourth Senate term she finds herself in the fight of her political life in this deep-blue state.

It's been more than 20 years since California has sent a Republican to the U.S. Senate, but the national discontent with the economy and spending and politics is alive and well in California too. That's made the outcome of this insider-outsider battle as foggy as a San Francisco morning.

Republican Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, has kept the race close with a relentless focus on one central theme: the economy is in shambles and she knows how to fix it.

"Maybe we need someone who's produced a result in Washington now because Barbara Boxer has accomplished shockingly little in her 28 years in Washington, D.C.," said Fiorina.

That argument, Democrats and Republicans agree, has been effective.

"There are a lot of Californians whose net worth today is half of what it was two years ago, and they are motivated and they are upset and they are not going to be voting for incumbents," says former California State Senate Republican Leader Jim Brulte.

"The nationalization of the campaign has reached California a little bit. It's a tough time to be a Democrat in California," Democratic strategist Bill Carrack says.

Boxer, like so many Democrats, is arguing that an election is a choice and argues that voters here don't know Fiorina's record.

"They don't know about my opponent being named the worst CEO when she was at HP by five publications," says Boxer. "I need to tell them that. They don't know she wants to overturn Roe vs. Wade and make abortion a crime."

Fiorina has been forced off the campaign temporarily because she's been hospitalized for an infection that developed as a result of reconstructive surgery following her successful treatment for breast cancer.

Fiorina's chief of staff Deborah Bowker released a statement Tuesday:

"Carly has received treatment for the infection related to the reconstructive surgery she underwent in July after her winning battle with breast cancer. The doctors tending to her care will observe her overnight and are taking every precaution to ensure that she can return to her busy campaign schedule."

In the California governor race, Republican Meg Whitman has spent $140 million of her own money during the campaign, but Democrat Jerry Brown seems to be surging ahead in the polls. He's found a way to take one of Whitman's attacks, that he represents the past, and turn it against her.

In a recent campaign ad for Brown, Whitman is shown saying, "Thirty years ago, anything was possible in this state."

The screen fades to black and a question pop up: "Who was governor 30 years ago? Jerry Brown."

Then the ad shows Whitman saying, "I mean it's why I came to California so many years ago."
  • Jeff Greenfield

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