- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Carly Fiorina remains beloved in the eyes of many GOP voters but has squandered the momentum she earned in shining debate performances last summer, and limps into the new year hoping for a last-minute miracle in the presidential primary.

After having clawed her way onto the main stage for debates in September, the sole woman in the Republican field has been relegated to the second tier for Thursday’s debate in South Carolina.

The Fiorina camp is downplaying the snub, insisting there’s still time to sway the huge swath of primary voters who say they haven’t firmly committed to any candidate.

“Polls don’t decide elections, and neither do media executives. Voters do,” Anna Epstein, a campaign spokesperson, said. “And voters are frustrated with a political class that has failed year after year. Carly can win the job, and Carly can do the job.”

But voters are beginning to question her viability after she failed to capitalize on her early good fortune.

During an appearance this week on CBS Radio in Boston, a supporter called in to ask Mrs. Fiorina about her polling and posed a question that no candidate wants to hear: Would she be willing to accept being a running mate to any of her rivals?

“I am running for president,” Mrs. Fiorina responded in blunt fashion. “I am a leader.”

The interaction came shortly after Fox Business Network announced Monday that Mrs. Fiorina and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky missed the cut for the 9 p.m. prime-time debate in North Charleston. Instead, the duo were invited to participate in a 6 p.m. undercard debate with former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the past two winners of the Iowa caucuses.

Mr. Paul plans to skip the event in protest, but not Mrs. Fiorina.

Charlie Gerow, an adviser to Mrs. Fiorina, said the earlier forum will provide her with another opportunity to shine.

Carly Fiorina has and always will do exceptionally well on the debate stage, and she has proven beyond the shadow of any doubt what kind of candidate she is, and Thursday night will give her yet another opportunity to visibly demonstrate her credentials and capabilities to be commander in chief,” Mr. Gerow said.

Donald Trump, meanwhile, is poised to take center stage in the prime-time forum, sandwiched between Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida.

Flanking the trio will be retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on one side and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich on the other.

Mrs. Fiorina’s slide comes despite tallying 100 days campaigning in Iowa in New Hampshire — more than any of her competitors — according to a tally from Democracy in Action.

Some blame her struggles on an early decision to outsource a good chunk of the traditional campaign operations to a supportive super political action committee, leaving Mrs. Fiorina without the campaign infrastructure to capitalize on her relentless campaigning. There is also a sense that her “outsider” message has grown stale.

Still, others are baffled.

“I’ve seen her, and she is fantastic,” said Brian Murphy, chairman of the Rockingham County GOP in New Hampshire. “I think she offers a lot of substance in a short stump speech. I can’t understand why more people are not interested in her as a top-three choice.”

Fergus Cullen, former New Hampshire GOP chairman, said Mrs. Fiorina has struggled to get voters to commit to her — much like others in the field.

“It is a bit of a mystery,” Mr. Cullen said of Mrs. Fiorina’s standing in the race. “But I am sure if you get all the candidates at this time and get them candid, they will all express the same frustration: ‘What do I have to do to convert you from someone who is considering me to being a committed supporter?’”

Mrs. Fiorina’s high point in the race so far came in the wake of memorable back-to-back debate performances in Cleveland and California, where she cast herself as Hillary Clinton’s kryptonite. She said she was an outsider with the business acumen and worldly knowledge needed to do what the “political class” could not: bolster the economy and the nation’s image on the world stage.

Mrs. Fiorina also did something few have done: got the better of an exchange with Donald Trump over comments he made about her looks.

But with the added attention came increased scrutiny of her political past as a Republican Party official and failed 2010 Senate candidate in California. Critics also attacked her professional record as CEO of Hewlett-Packard.

Since then, she has faded in the polls, and the RealClearPolitics.com average of polls shows her running ninth in Iowa and eighth in New Hampshire.

“Maybe she would have gotten some of that constituency going to Donald Trump if he wasn’t there,” said Will Rogers, chairman of the Polk County GOP in Iowa. “On one hand, she talks about being a CEO, but Donald Trump can make that claim as well. So maybe some of the strengths she had are being overshadowed by some of the other candidates.”

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