Dig into our Carly Fiorina coverage, if you haven’t already, and you’ll come away with an understanding of why the Republican presidential candidate’s performance running Hewlett-Packard remains so contentious a decade later. Her opponent in her first run for office, incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), used Fiorina’s record there to devastating effect in what amounted to a kill shot of a TV ad five years ago. Rival GOP campaigns are surely studying it, along with the finer points of the history itself, after Fiorina’s breakout turn Wednesday on the main stage of the CNN debate. Vault into serious contention, invite serious scrutiny.
Fiorina knows this. Her ready reply to an attack she anticipated in the debate — invoking as defenders the late Steve Jobs and Tom Perkins, who’d voted to fire her — testified to the work she’s done since her first political foray to shore up her defense. But she also needs to attend to some more earthly concerns if she hopes to scale up her presidential bid, namely, immediately, money. In her most recent disclosure this summer, Fiorina reported raising a relatively meager $1.7 million for her official account. The super PAC supporting her effort didn’t do much better, pulling in $3.5 million.
The former tech honcho can expect to redeem new national exposure for campaign donations. But in one regard, the task points back to her bigger challenge: While Silicon Valley might seem like her first and most obvious source of cash, it likely won’t yield much. “She’s never going to be the tech candidate,” says Boris Feldman, who served as Fiorina’s lawyer at HP and has remained a close friend since. “They view her as an outsider… The rank-and-file at HP didn’t like her. She was a disruptor.” Of course, it’s possible to frame that as a virtue, as Fiorina surfs the wave of antiestablishment fervor convulsing the party. The other way of seeing it is that many who saw her work up close don’t want to invest in giving her a far graver responsibility.