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California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer to retire

January 8, 2015
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FILE - In this Dec. 3, 2014 file photo, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. Boxer said Thursday she won't seek re-election after 4th term. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, a tenacious liberal whose election to the Senate in 1992 heralded a new era for women at the upper reaches of U.S. political power, announced Thursday she will not seek re-election to a new term next year.

A staunch supporter of abortion rights, gun control and environmental protections, Boxer has said she is most proud of the vote that she cast against the war in Iraq.

Boxer’s retirement sets off a free-for-all among California Democrats, who have been ascendant in the state for decades with few offices to aspire to while Boxer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein have held a lock on the state’s U.S. Senate seats.

The 74-year-old Boxer would have been a prohibitive favorite to win if she had sought re-election in strongly Democratic California. However, her retirement is unlikely to affect the Democratic Party’s hopes of recapturing the Senate in 2016. Republicans have found it exceedingly difficult to find a candidate who can compete statewide in California.

Republicans view the retirement as a positive for the 2016 elections because it could mean that Democrats will have to spend money to retain the seat, which they probably would not have done if Boxer were in the race. Still, the latest voter registration numbers in California show that Republicans will have an extremely difficult time: Only about 28 percent of the state’s voters are registered as Republicans.

Boxer made the announcement in an unusual video in which she answered questions posed by her grandson, Zach Rodham. “I am never going to retire. The work is too important. But I will not be running for the Senate in 2016,” Boxer said.

Boxer was first elected to the House in 1982 and to the Senate one decade later. It was an election that marked a watershed year for women in politics, with four winning U.S. Senate seats.

Boxer had a way of riling conservatives.

During the height of the war in Iraq, she challenged Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s integrity by telling her that she believed her “loyalty to the mission you were given, to sell this war, overwhelmed your respect for the truth.”

Some of the exchanges she has had with witnesses at committee hearings over the years cemented her reputation as a firebrand.

In 2009, she brusquely requested that a brigadier general in the Army Corps of Engineers call her senator instead of ma’am. The confrontation served as fundraising fodder for her election opponents the following year, but she still won handily.

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Associated Press Writers Erica Werner and Donna Cassata contributed to this report.

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