Los Angeles (CNN) - It's a sign of how fierce the battle for the California Senate seat could become. In the days before the California primary, Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and Republican frontrunner and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina are already trading barbs over national security. But one of the fights isn't what you might expect, its over printer ink.
"Printer ink is not a national security issue", Fiorina told CNN.
Why is that part of the discussion?
It started with Fiorina's latest ad. The Republican candidate, polling 15 points ahead of her nearest Republican opponent according to the two most recent non-partisan surveys, has set her sights on the general election. She accuses Boxer of playing politics with national security.
Featuring a clip of Boxer saying in 2007 "one of the very important national security issues we face, frankly, is climate change" the commercial cuts to a get-tough image of Fiorina saying straight to camera "Terrorism kills. And Barbara Boxer is worried about the weather."
When the ad first aired last week, the Boxer campaign quickly responded, accusing Fiorina of having a "troubling record on protecting Americans from terrorism". Their evidence: The campaign CHARGED that while Fiorina was Hewlett Packard CEO, the company was trading with Iran, a state sponsor of terrorism. This charge has followed Fiorina since 2008 when the Boston Globe reported that Hewlett Packard printers were awfully popular - and available - in Iran, despite the US embargo. Apparently Hewlett Packard sold products to a subsidiary which then sold them to another company, which sold them to Iran. Last year Hewlett Packard stopped selling to that intermediary.
In an interview with CNN, Fiorina acknowledged that both during and after her tenure, one Hewlett Packard product - printer ink - was distributed in Iran. She pointed out that no laws were broken (Packard was never charged with a violation of the embargo). In the past Fiorina's campaign has told reporters that during her tenure Fiorina had no knowledge of HP sales to Iran. Fiorina told CNN:
"The point is the employees of HP have always complied with the law which Barbara Boxer knows well if they would bother to check the facts."
But Fiorina also seemed to suggest having technology inside Iran has its advantages, telling CNN: "By the way Dell computers are distributed in Iran. Apple ipods are distributed in Iran – thank goodness, that is how we found out what was going on in the streets of Iran during the summer last year."
The Fiorina campaign says she fully supports the embargo and has called for what a campaign spokesperson describes as "crippling sanctions" against Tehran.
While Fiorina is poised to win Tuesday's primary, a recent Los Angeles Times/USC poll indicates Fiorina trailing Boxer in the general election. The same poll has former Rep. Tom Campbell - a more moderate Republican - leading Boxer. Campbell's campaign ran low on money in the final days of the primary.
Fiorina tells CNN she isn't worried about the polls this far ahead of the election. "The polls I pay a lot of attention to are the folks who would vote for her. She is very vulnerable," says Fiorina.