Halfway through tonight’s “losers” GOP presidential debate—that is, the 5 p.m. ET pre-show for those who didn’t make the top cut—America’s favorite political numbers guy, Nate Silver, tweeted:
Fiorina’s biggest problem in this unprecedented and sprawling Republican field is simple: name recognition. The former Hewlett-Packard CEO stands out as the only woman on a combined stage of 16 men. She’s smart, articulate, and routinely demonstrates a depth of knowledge on global economic and national security issues. For many Republican women, she is the anti-Sarah Palin, the anti-Michelle Bachmann—a reminder that “center-right thoughtful” versus “right-wing flippant” reflects much of today's party faithful.
Fiorina is a dogged campaigner. She nabs every TV slot that passes by, and hasn’t taken a break from the campaign trail—including fundraising—since she jumped into the ring on May 4. And yet, she can’t crack the 3%-of-GOP-voters mark (though, at one point, she came close to qualifying for the magic top ten who are debating in tonight’s primetime forum.)
But the Google Trends cited by FiveThirtyEight’s Silver suggested an audience interested in learning more about this woman wearing rose pink in the midst of a lineup of ties and blue suits. She managed to some catch attention, too, from the elite media during the evening's forum. Fox News analyst and USA Today columnist Kirsten Powers, a former Democratic operative, declared Fiorina the "half-time winner." And CNBC’s chief Washington correspondent John Harwood called her the freshest voice on stage.
Based on Twitter traffic, Fox News named Fiorina the winner of the B-team debate. As the main event opened three hours later, moderator Megyn Kelly mused that the men on the stage should "be happy" that they didn't have to face Fiorina's firepower.
Fiorina’s first debate performance was a recap of much of what she’s been road-testing on the campaign trail and elsewhere. (Catch my interview with her, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, delving into her personal history as well as her views on foreign affairs—part of our CSIS-Fortune Smart Women Smart Power Series: http://csis.org/event/conversation-carly-fiorina.)
To gain traction in the primary race, Fiorina has been deploying three overarching themes—aside from repeatedly declaring her “conservative” credentials to the right-leaning GOP primary voters.
First, she avidly shows off her global cred. When asked about the Iran nuclear deal, Fiorina says that the moment she takes office she would make two phone calls. The first would be to her “good friend Bibi"—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—to assure Israel that the U.S. stands with its longtime ally. Then she would make a less friendly call to the Supreme Leader of Iran. (Fiorina also frequently invokes her past interactions with Russian President Vladimir Putin.)
Second, Fiorina deploys her high-tech credentials, typically to send out alerts on cyber threats from China and Russia. “They are using tech to attack us,” she declared at tonight’s debate. But she also called on companies such as Apple and Google to cooperate more with federal investigators on cyber and terror threats facing the nation.
Her third weapon—the most noted so far—is her willingness to go for Hillary Clinton’s jugular. As a female candidate, Fiorina is betting that she can go much farther than any male candidate in attacking the frontrunner to become America’s first woman president.
Last night, when asked to give a four-word description of Clinton, Fiorina stuck the dagger in: “Not trustworthy, no accomplishment.”
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