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Horowitz: The Carly Fiorina Moment

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Rob Horowitz

By far, the candidate receiving the biggest boost from last week’s Republican Presidential Candidates Debate is Carly Forina. More than half of Republicans thought that Fiorina won the debate and based largely on this performance she moved from 3% in the national horserace to 15%, according to a CNN post-debate poll released on Sunday. This puts her in a statistical tie for 2nd place with Ben Carson and with-in striking range of Donald Trump, who was the debate’s biggest loser.

Fiorina’s crisp and compelling debate performance surpassed even the high expectations set for her as a result of her outstanding debate performance in the so-called kids table debate held on FOX.  Fiorina deftly combined mastery of policy specifics with the ability to deliver memorable sound bites. For example, when asked by moderator Jack Tapper to respond to Donald Trump’s initial statement that people would not vote for Fiorina because of “her face” as well as his later claim that he meant her persona not her looks, Carly Fiorina said, “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said,” triggering lengthy applause from the audience.

Now, Fiorina must take the next steps and solidify and build on these gains.  With 54% of Republicans now rating her favorably and only 17% with an unfavorable opinion, her candidacy has the potential for marked growth.

But this potential can only be realized if she can withstand the tough criticism of her tenure as CEO of Hewlett-Packard, where she laid off thousands of people at the same time her own compensation was boosted, failed to raise the stock price, and was eventually fired.  Given her new status as one of the front-runners, this criticism is already beginning to ramp up. Over the next few weeks, there will be heightened media scrutiny and her opponents led by Donald Trump, who hit her hard on this topic during the debate, are likely to step up their attacks.

Her dilemma, in fighting back against her critics, is that she has few if any other signature accomplishments beyond her tenure at Hewlett- Packard upon which she can fall back. As some of her critics note, no other company has hired her as a CEO since she was fired. As a result, she can’t point to how she learned lessons and was successful in other business endeavors. And she does not have a record in public life that could serve as a counter-balance.

Fiorina faces tough road ahead because she doesn’t have the kind of track record either in the private sector or the public sector to add ballast to her skilled performances. As voters learn more about her, this will not be an unvarnished plus. Because voter opinion fluctuates much more heavily in nomination contests than in general elections-- where candidates are identified by their political party and this identification is determinative for most voters--Fiorina’s support could evaporate as easily as it could grow.

Still, Carly Fiorina has emerged as a top contender based on her skilled performances—impressing primary voters and pundits alike.  This provides Fiorina with a fighting chance to capitalize on a moment that she has surely earned.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island

Videowall courtesy of Marc Nozell/flickr


Related Slideshow: The 2016 Presidential Candidates With the Most Campaign Money

Prev Next

George Pataki

Total Raised: $255,795

What InsideGov said

The former governor of New York has raised a modest amount so far. Individual donors made up most of this number, with 93% coming from large individual contributions (greater than $200). Pataki’s super PACs have not disclosed their fundraising totals, so his total amount might jump at the end of the month.

Prev Next

Lincoln Chafee

Total Raised: $392,743

What InsideGov said:

Chafee’s campaign has yet to gain momentum in the primaries. The former governor of Rhode Island has raised over $390K, but 93% of that number came from a loan he took out for himself. No super PACs have released fundraising totals for Chafee’s campaign.

Prev Next

Rick Santorum

Total Raised: $607,617

What InsideGov said

The former Pennsylvania senator raised over $22 million during his presidential bid in 2012. Will he be able to match that number in 2016? So far, Santorum has a ways to go, having raised a little over $600K. The fact that his super PACs are waiting disclose their totals isn’t encouraging.

Prev Next

Donald Trump

Total Raised: $1,902,410

What InsideGov said

Nearly 95% of Trump’s campaign contributions has come from loans, with individual contributions making up most of the remaining 5%. While Trump sits at number 14 now, he still has a $10 billion fortune to tap into if need be.

Prev Next

Martin O'Malley

Total Raised: $2,006,905

What InsideGov said

Any Democratic challenger to Hillary Clinton better be prepared for an uphill battle. O’Malley’s campaign is roughly on par with the average for campaign committees ($2.46 million). Moreover, O’Malley’s super PAC has yet to disclose its totals.

Prev Next

Lindsey Graham

Total Raised: $3,709,553

What InsideGov said

Graham’s campaign committee has gotten off to a solid start. Individual contributions made up around 58% of the total and transfers from affiliated committees made up 41%. Graham will surely rank higher when his super PACs release their numbers.

Prev Next

Carly Fiorina

Total Raised: $5,104,704

What InsideGov said

Fiorina’s official campaign committee lags behind most others in terms of fundraising, having raised a little over $1.7 million. But her super PAC is picking up the slack, with $3.4 million in fundraising.

Prev Next

Rand Paul

Total Raised: $6,932,779

What InsideGov said

Senator Paul prides himself on being a grassroots leader, and his fundraising breakdown reflects his campaign style. So far, Paul’s campaign has raised nearly $7 million without the help of his super PACs. Even more impressive is that 46% of his campaign contributions came from small individual donors.

Prev Next

Mike Huckabee

Total Raised: $8,004,463

What InsideGov said:

Huckabee was one of the first candidates to announce his 2016 presidential bid, but his campaign committee has struggled to attract significant donors, raising just $2 million. Huckabee’s super PACs raised triple that amount.

Prev Next

Bobby Jindal

Total Raised: $9,278,758

What InsideGov said:

Jindal’s official campaign committee has raised less than $600K, putting it behind most of its GOP rivals. But the combination of super PAC funds and outside committees have pushed his total amount above $9 million.

Prev Next

Ben Carson

Total Raised: $10,600,000

What InsideGov said:

As one of the first candidates to enter the race, Carson has had more time to fundraise than most of his competitors. His campaign’s contributions mostly come from small individual donors (68%) and large individual donors (32%). Carson’s two super PACs have not released their totals yet.

Prev Next

Bernie Sanders

Total Raised: $15,247,353

What InsideGov said

The Democratic senator from Vermont is adamantly opposed to super PACs, arguing that billionaires should not be able to “buy politicians.” Even without super PAC help, Sanders is off to a strong start. His official campaign committee has raised over $15 million so far, more than any other 2016 candidate except Hillary Clinton.

Prev Next

Rick Perry

Total Raised: $17,939,367

What InsideGov said:

After an embarrassing gaffe during the 2012 Republican primaries, Perry’s image took a big hit. Perry’s official campaign is still struggling to connect with people, raising a paltry $1.1 million. But the former Texas governor received a major $16.8 million boost from super PACs.

Prev Next

Marco Rubio

Total Raised: $44,000,000

What InsideGov said:

Rubio’s total fundraising is divided between three main sources: the official campaign committee ($12.1 million), a super PAC ($16.1 million) and a nonprofit named the Conservative Solutions Project ($15.8 million). Overall, it’s a promising start for the young Florida senator.

Prev Next

Ted Cruz

Total Raised: $52,300,000

What InsideGov said:

As the first person on this list to announce his candidacy, Cruz has had the most time to fundraise. His campaign committee has raised $14.2 million so far, but where he really stands out is in super PAC funding. Cruz’s super PACs have raised $38 million, the second highest of any candidate.

Prev Next

Hillary Clinton

Total Raised: $63,149,950

What InsideGov said:

Clinton is the clear Democratic frontrunner in terms of fundraising. Her campaign committee has raised an impressive $47 million, more than any other presidential candidate, and her super PACs have brought in an extra $15.6 million. Interestingly, 82% of Clinton’s total campaign contributions have come from large individual donations.

Prev Next

Jeb Bush

Total Raised: $114,429,898

What InsideGov said:

Jeb Bush blew his GOP rivals out of the water with a stunning $104 million fundraising effort from his super PAC, Right to Rise USA. In fact, Bush delayedhis official entry into the race so that he could fundraise directly for his super PAC.

Since his formal announcement of candidacy, Bush’s campaign committee has raised nearly $11.5 million, though this amount is largely skewed toward large individual contributors (93%).


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