POLITICS

How Carly Fiorina lost the moment and the momentum in Iowa

Businesswoman turned presidential candidate Carly Fiorina recalled the beginning of her campaign last spring.

"No one knew who I was. No one had ever heard my name," the Republican told several dozen people at a photography exhibit here recently. "The pundits wrote me off.... But the people of Iowa showed up in dining rooms, living rooms and restaurants, and you listened.

"And I'm here to tell you … on Monday we're going to surprise people here in Iowa and we're going to leave here with the wind at our back."

It was an optimistic assessment that clashed hard with the reality on the ground as this state held the first presidential nominating contest in the nation.

But she finished with just under 2% of the vote Monday, receiving less than 3,500 votes and finishing seventh of 12 candidates.

Her campaign and the super PAC backing Fiorina’s bid did not respond to requests for comment.

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But the candidate tweeted Monday night that she was boarding a plane: "See you soon, New Hampshire." Fox News reported that Fiorina skipped her own caucus party because of an incoming blizzard. 

Over the last nine months, Fiorina crisscrossed the state and held 138 town halls, rallies and meet-and-greets, among the most appearances for a GOP candidate. Her charisma on the stump, which she displayed in California in 2010 during an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate, remained indisputable before the caucuses began Monday night.

"I hear her speak and I trust her more than any other candidate, said Kate Caitsuttie, "and I've heard them all." The 28-year-old from Des Moines said she planned to caucus for Fiorina.

For a brief moment as summer turned to fall, Fiorina rose in the polls.

During the first GOP debate in Cleveland in August, she was relegated to the undercard debate for second-tier candidates because polls showed she had little support.

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A sterling performance drove up her numbers, landing her a spot onstage at the September prime-time debate at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. She again delivered a well-regarded performance and memorably confronted GOP front-runner Donald Trump, who had made critical remarks about her appearance.

In the aftermath, Fiorina's polling hit double digits in Iowa.

But since October, the former Hewlett-Packard chairwoman has been mired in the low single digits. In the Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll released Saturday, Fiorina drew the support of 2% of likely Iowa GOP caucus-goers, tied for last place.

The decline, according to political observers, is a combination of her squandering her post-Reagan debate momentum, the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino placing an even greater emphasis on foreign policy experience and a crowded GOP field.

"She deftly fought her way to the main debate stage and had a killer performance, but then she didn't know what to do with the moment," said GOP strategist Rob Stutzman, who is in Iowa to observe the caucuses. "Voters noticed her, considered her and then returned her to the lowest tier of the candidates."

seema.mehta@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATSeema

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A version of this article appeared in print on February 01, 2016, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "How Fiorina lost the moment and the momentum in Iowa" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe

UPDATES

10:45 p.m.: The story was updated to reflect the results of the Iowa caucuses. 

The story was originally published at 3 a.m.

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