Carly Fiorina addresses the Western Conservative Summit in Denver last week. (Theo Stroomer / Getty Images)
By Seema Mehta
July 2, 2015
When it was Carly Fiorina’s turn to take the stage at a presidential forum in Oklahoma City, Noah Wolff was thinking of heading outside for a break.
“I thought of all the people, why is she here?” said Wolff, 19, a registered Republican and political science major at the University of Oklahoma.
But as Fiorina started speaking, Wolff was captivated by her message. While other candidates in the convention hall spent their time spewing standard conservative talking points and criticizing the current Democratic administration, he said, Fiorina outlined solutions, such as how she would negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran.
Wolff stood with the crowd in several ovations for the GOP presidential hopeful.
Previously, the only thing he knew about Fiorina was that Hewlett-Packard had fired her. “Maybe that’s why I was so impressed — I came in with very low expectations and she was just far and away the best speech,” he said.
Fiorina, who lost a U.S. Senate race in California in 2010 by 10 percentage points, has never registered above 3% in national presidential polls. But she is showing signs of momentum. She cracked the top 10 in a national survey for the first time last week, a requisite to win a spot in the first Republican primary debate in August.
In Denver on Saturday, she placed second in a conservative gathering’s straw poll — not an indicator of her likelihood of winning the GOP nomination, but a sign of the enthusiasm she is generating among grass-roots activists.
Fiorina also is consistently drawing rave reviews on the stump.
At a multi-candidate forum in Nashua, N.H., earlier this year, Republican activists who couldn’t pronounce Fiorina’s last name before her speech buzzed about her in the hallways afterward. Hundreds groaned in disappointment at an Iowa Republican fundraiser in May when Fiorina’s mic was cut after she ran past her 10-minute allotment.
Fiorina remains a long shot because of her resume. The last president who hadn’t held elected office before was Dwight D. Eisenhower, who won the White House in 1952.
“And he had to win World War II to do it,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. “So she’s probably not going to be president of the United States in January of 2017. Nobody campaigns to be a running mate or a Cabinet member, but if she continues on this trajectory, she’s going to be regarded much more favorably than she was at the end of the Senate race.”
When Fiorina is questioned about her lack of elected experience, she argues that her tenure running Hewlett-Packard showcases her leadership skills, and that the nation’s founders never intended for there to be a “permanent political class” — points she repeatedly emphasized during her Senate run.
Among some voters, who in polling view officials in Washington, D.C., with less regard than used-car salesmen, the lack of time in elected office does not disqualify Fiorina from the presidency.
“It doesn’t in my eyes,” said Jon McAvoy, 71, who saw her speak at a conservative breakfast club in Urbandale, Iowa. Fiorina’s ascension to chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, he added, shows “she’s no dummy.”
The retiree said that he hadn’t decided whom he would caucus for in February, but that Fiorina had earned a spot on his short list.
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