In her campaign to unseat Barbara Boxer, she actively courts core conservatives.

By Maeve Reston, Los Angeles Times
September 19, 2010

Days before the June Republican primary, Carly Fiorina appeared before the Central Valley Tea Party and asked the group to help her clinch the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, winning over many skeptical members who had favored a rival and promising that she’d be back to visit if they helped her defeat three-term Democrat Barbara Boxer.

The former Hewlett-Packard chief executive went back early, speaking to the group Saturday in a month in which the “tea party” movement showed its muscle by defeating incumbent Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, and notching its eighth Senate nomination with Christine O’Donnell’s win in Delaware. This time, Fiorina brought signup sheets and members of her campaign team to lead a seminar on getting out the vote for her campaign.

Pacing on stage at the Veterans Memorial Building in downtown Clovis before an audience of 165 people, Fiorina railed against Boxer as a “big-spending, big-taxing, big-regulating liberal politician” who had supported programs like the stimulus, which Fiorina deems ineffective, and allowed her votes to be controlled by “extreme environmentalists.”

“It’s not just that she is bad for this state. It’s not just that she has been in Washington for far too long and done far too little of what we need her and ask her to do,” Fiorina said. “It’s also because defeating Barbara Boxer is a shot heard right across this nation.”

Fiorina’s Democratic opponents have argued that her support among tea partyers would be a liability in November. Boxer’s campaign manager, Rose Kapolczynski, warned Saturday that Fiorina was taking a risk by “aligning herself with some of the most conservative elements in politics today, which will reinforce for California voters how out of touch she is on so many issues.”

“Becoming the tea party candidate in California could be a double-edged sword,” Kapolczynski said.

But Fiorina has embraced the movement, telling reporters after the event that the “tea parties have been a tremendous help to my campaign.” In a dig at Boxer, she added that O’Donnell’s victory this week was the latest evidence that voters had concluded that “people who have been in politics all their life aren’t the solution.”

Fiorina’s trip to Clovis, eight days after she spoke to a tea party group in Marin County, also reflected her continuing efforts to energize core conservative voters.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman has backed away from the conservative rhetoric she used during the primary on immigration and climate change as she has tried to appeal moderate and independent voters. And she has not held any public campaign events with tea party groups since the primary. Fiorina, however, has hewed closely to her conservative stances and welcomed their support.

The differing approaches are one reason why a number of tea partyers in Clovis said Saturday that they were more willing to sign up to help Fiorina than Whitman. Their ambivalence was reflected even in the “Central Valley Tea Party Times,” a pamphlet that was handed out at the door.

Fiorina’s name was at the top of the list of “voting recommendations” that included 13 state races. There was no recommendation for the governor’s race.

Betty Van Valkenburg, a retired small-business owner from Clovis who puts the newsletter together, said that although many Central Valley tea partyers are fully behind Fiorina, there has been less enthusiasm for Whitman. Ultimately, she said, the group did not recommend a candidate in the governor’s race because its members were divided between Whitman and Chelene Nightingale, the American Independent Party nominee.

Fiorina “is the total opposite of Barbara Boxer and she supports the values we support, which is limited government and free markets,” Van Valkenburg said. Whitman, she said, opposed Arizona’s tough new immigration law, a decision she called “stupid.”

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