- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2008

By Sen. John McCain’s own admission, the economy isn’t his strong suit. The ace up his sleeve may be a polished corporate executive ranked six times as America’s most powerful businesswoman, who is also among the most controversial.

Carly Fiorina, 53, who ran Hewlett-Packard Co., the largest U.S. corporation headed by a woman, joined the Arizona senator’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination in March 2007, sticking with him even as the campaign faltered. This March, as he clinched the nomination, she reaped the reward and was appointed chairwoman of Victory ‘08, the public face of, and force behind, Republican efforts to keep the White House.

Mr. McCain last week praised Mrs. Fiorina for playing “a vital role in the leadership of my campaign,” saying he is particularly “grateful” for her economic advice.

Mrs. Fiorina is no stranger to television cameras. As chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard, she became the telegenic face, in ads and in interviews, of what was then the second-largest computer maker. She also presided over the contentious $18.9 billion acquisition of rival Compaq Computer Corp., thousands of layoffs and the dot-com boom and bust, before being ousted in 2005 in a struggle with her board after the Palo Alto, Calif., company’s shares plunged 55 percent.

Months later, her name was floated for the top job at the World Bank. She was passed over for Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

These days, she is equally at ease fielding voters’ questions, cultivating donors and helping the candidate articulate a platform of low taxes and smaller government.

Mrs. Fiorina outlined the vision she shares with Mr. McCain: Keep taxes low to encourage small-business innovation and job creation, offer choice in education, retrain laid-off workers and promote alternative energy - including nuclear power.

That vision also includes free trade. She said Mr. McCain thinks trade creates jobs and spurs competitiveness among U.S. companies. “The protectionist rhetoric out of the Democratic Party terrifies business,” she said.

Mrs. Fiorina’s importance as an economic adviser looms large because of Mr. McCain’s self-deprecating remarks about his lack of expertise on the issue. She dismissed those comments, which the candidate has made in a television debate, to reporters and in at least one town-hall meeting, as “a reflection of his natural humility.” Most important, she said, “He knows the role of the government is to unleash the creativity of the American people.”

His campaign, in turn, is banking on her corporate experience, life story and communication skills to draw to McCain voters anxious about the economy, as well as women and business donors.

Mr. McCain has been criticized by women’s groups for his opposition to new equal-pay-for-equal-work legislation. Mrs. Fiorina says he thinks that women should be paid equally, though he doesn’t think the government should legislate pay - the same reason he opposes increases in the minimum wage.

Mrs. Fiorina, the daughter of a federal judge, says that while she has always opposed abortion, the Republican Party has room for women on both sides of that issue. “Most women are not single-issue voters,” she said.

She said “women-run small businesses are the fastest-growing sector of the economy” and that women inherit the overwhelming majority of bequeathed wealth, making them receptive to other issues that Mr. McCain champions: low taxes, portable health care and blocking Internet porn.

Mrs. Fiorina, who joined AT&T; as a trainee and rose to executive vice president before becoming a top executive at Lucent Technologies Inc., took over at Hewlett-Packard in 1999. Fortune magazine named her the most-powerful businesswoman in the U.S. during her entire tenure at Hewlett-Packard.

Still, she made enemies at the computer maker, particularly with her pursuit of Compaq, which some insiders said would disrupt Hewlett-Packard’s corporate culture. Others derided her as all flash and no substance.

The company has become the world’s largest maker of personal computers and printers, and its share price has doubled since she left - the fruits, say defenders and even some critics, of foundations she laid. Today, it’s difficult to find a former adversary in Silicon Valley who will criticize her.

Mrs. Fiorina met Mr. McCain in 2000, when she testified before Congress against taxation of the Internet. She describes him as a pragmatist who is unafraid to take unpopular positions. She recalled the candidate contradicting a voter at a town-hall meeting who wanted to deport all undocumented immigrants, including the elderly mother of a soldier serving in Iraq.

“People actually recognize the difference between saying what’s convenient and what is true,” she said.

Though her name has been floated as a possible choice to run for the vice presidency, a Cabinet post or other top appointment is more likely, given that she has never run for office. And she doesn’t rule out a political run of her own in the future.

She half-expected that her foray into politics would make her cynical. Instead, she said she has come away with “renewed faith in democracy, when you get away from all the stuff that’s driven by 24-hour news.”

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