- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 26, 2014

With the 2016 GOP presidential race starting in earnest in the new year, there is a dearth of prominent women candidates. But a number of Republicans say that Carly Fiorina could change that.

Mrs. Fiorina, the first woman to run a Fortune 50 company and 2010 Senate candidate, has made visits to the early caucus and primary states and left the definite impression she’s testing the waters for a potential dark-horse candidacy that could shake up the already crowded field.

“It is clear to me she is kicking the tires,” said Jim Merrill, a GOP strategist in New Hampshire who served as a top adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign.

The former CEO of Hewlett-Packard has a slim electoral office record, amounting to the failed bid for California’s Senate seat in 2010 — a race she lost to Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer by 10 percentage points. She also served in positions on Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and Mr. Romney’s 2012 campaign.

But analysts said her business experience could make her a serious contender despite the relatively thin political resume. She would also stand out in what is now an all-male GOP field.

“If she is the only woman in the race, I think that is going to give her some advantage, some strength there,” said Will Rogers, chairman of the Polk County Iowa GOP. “I think people also are going to look to her as a business leader, and there is a number of people in the Republican base that like that.”

Mrs. Fiorina could not be reached for comment about her plans, but those familiar with her thinking said she is seriously considering a bid.

She is scheduled to visit New Hampshire next month and to take part in a “Freedom Summit” in January being hosted by Citizens United and Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King.

If Mrs. Fiorina does run, it could put a finer point on the GOP’s problems wooing women voters, especially unmarried women, who have strongly favored Democrats in recent presidential cycles.

Strategists said having candidates such as Mrs. Fiorina, Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, as well as Govs. Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Nikki Haley of South Carolina run would be a good thing.

Some conservatives also hope that retiring Rep. Michelle Bachmann, Minnesota Republican, runs again and that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 vice presidential nominee, enters the fray.

Despite never being elected to public office, Mrs. Fiorina has been a regular in Republican circles since her high-profile ouster from Hewlett-Packard in 2006.

IOUs

Most recently, she established a super PAC, called Unlocking Potential, aimed at bolstering the GOP’s ground game and boosting women voter turnout in key battleground states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and Colorado ahead of the 2014 midterm elections. Along the way, she campaigned with gubernatorial and Senate candidates, and met with local kingmakers, including former New Hampshire Gov. John H. Sununu.

“She has created a lot of IOUs for herself,” said Shawn Steel, an RNC member from California.

The super PAC also has given the 60-year-old a platform to introduce herself to voters in key states, where she talks about her history as a cancer survivor and how her Christian faith helped her cope with the loss of a stepdaughter in 2009.

She also criticized what she calls the big-government policies of the Obama administration, which she blames for the sluggish economic and job growth, while rejecting the Democrats’ “war on women” attack line.

“We are not waging a war on women simply because we see no reason for birth control to be free. We respect all women, and we do not insult them as the Democratic Party does by assuming that women care only about reproductive rights,” Mrs. Fiorina said in a speech earlier this year at the Northeast Republican Conference in New Hampshire. “All issues are women issues. We are half of this great nation.”

Keith Appell, a GOP strategist, said Mrs. Fiorina would be a formidable presidential candidate because she is a good communicator with a message that plays well with lots of voters.

“The 2016 GOP field will be of a higher caliber than 2012 no matter who runs, but it only helps the Republicans if they have at least one high-quality woman in that field, and Carly would be at the top of that list,” he said.

Mr. Rogers and other Republicans said Mrs. Fiorina’s style could give her more staying power than Mrs. Bachmann or Mrs. Palin, who took a more aggressive approach to campaigning.

“Not aggressive in a bad way, but they tend to be more willing to lob grenades,” he said. “I think Carly Fiorina’s approach is rather than try to separate people, let’s get them together. If she makes it into a general [election], she is going to have a lot of broad appeal.”


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