Fiorina and DeVore appeal for the women’s vote

Two of the major Republican candidates aiming to unseat U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer made their case this weekend to the party’s most active women, arguing that both Boxer’s record and anti-incumbent sentiment nationally have put momentum on their side.

Their arguments crystallized their central pitches to party voters before the June primary.

Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief making her first bid for elective office, detailed her ascension from receptionist to multimillionaire corporate chief.

Chuck DeVore, the Orange County assemblyman, reminded them of his decades of service to GOP causes and the conservative credentials well known to party insiders.


The one thing they agreed on is that the dynamics of the 2010 race have put the three-term incumbent in their sights.

“Bring it on, Babs. Let’s rumble!” said Fiorina, speaking at a Saturday evening banquet at the California Federation of Republican Women’s winter conference in Westlake Village. She took particular aim at Boxer’s role in crafting a global warming proposal: “Barbara Boxer is literally, as we speak, helping to destroy jobs in California.”

DeVore, of Irvine, said the upcoming election is the most important of his lifetime.

“Nothing less than the future of this nation is at stake in 2010,” he said at a breakfast meeting Sunday. “Not only do we have an opportunity to get rid of Boxer, I think we have an unprecedented opportunity this year to elect someone who is a proven conservative.”

The third major candidate and the leader in early polls, former Rep. Tom Campbell, did not attend.

Though they do not endorse in the primary, the women’s clubs are an influential audience of the party’s most committed voters and an early testing ground for candidates.

Once the Republican nominee is decided, these women become the backbone of the party’s volunteer efforts in the general election; their convention welcome letter ends with the admonition: “Hitch Up Your Britches and Get to Work!” They will turn out in full force, registering voters at county fairs and farmers markets, organizing events across the state and reaching out to voters.

DeVore, who has been involved in GOP politics since he was a college student, is well known among the women and received a standing ovation and strong applause.

Carol Hadley, a federation official from Central California, began introducing DeVore, then stopped.

“You don’t want to hear me, you all know about him,” she said. “Chuck, come on up here.”

DeVore argued that the deep discontent among voters, visible in the “tea party” movement and Republican Scott Brown’s Senate victory in Massachusetts, would carry him to victory over Boxer.

“You’re seeing the American people beginning to wake up and come back to first principles almost instinctively. This is a remarkable moment in American history,” he said. “We needed it. It’s coming not a moment too soon.”

Ever-growing government, deficit spending and debt to China are threatening the nation’s future, DeVore said. He would “make a case for proper limited government, a government that exists, by the way, not to try to give us happiness with money borrowed from China but a government that understands that the purpose of our government is to secure our God-given rights and provide us an environment where we all can pursue happiness.”

Fiorina was far less familiar to the several hundred attendees, and she sought to reassure voters about why she was running for Senate.

“It is true I am not a career politician, I am not a perennial office seeker,” she said. “I remind people our founding fathers intended ours to be a citizen government.”

Fiorina said her business acumen would help her craft common-sense legislation and root out waste. She noted that the federal government is considering offering a tax credit to small businesses for new hires. That shows politicians’ lack of understanding of how businesses operate, she said.

“I don’t think they understand how a cash-flow statement works,” Fiorina said.

Small businesses would be expected to hire new employees, pay their wages, file paperwork and then receive a tax credit, she said. Instead, she said, small-business taxes should simply be cut.

But Fiorina’s business record is also grist for her opponents. In a response to Fiorina’s comments, Boxer campaign manager Rose Kapolczynski offered a reminder that Fiorina was fired from Hewlett-Packard after a tempestuous tenure.

“Carly Fiorina is trying to deflect attention from her record as a failed CEO who laid off 28,000 Americans and shipped their jobs overseas,” she said.

“Californians know climate change is real, and Barbara Boxer is working to create clean-energy jobs while reducing global warming pollution.”

Many women at the convention said they were moved by Fiorina’s life story, including her recent battle with breast cancer and her earlier rise to become the only woman to lead a Fortune 20 company.

“I like that she’s self-made,” said Barbara Sponsler of Newbury Park, who said she planned to vote for Fiorina. “I like that she beat out the good-old boys.”

Sponsler and others said they also liked that Fiorina did not violate Reagan’s 11th commandment: She didn’t speak negatively about other Republicans. (At least during her speech, that is: Her campaign spent much of last week touting a video strongly critical of Campbell.)

But others described Fiorina as too much of an unknown.

“She was a little canned,” said Debbie Cochran of Navajo Canyon. “It was interesting hearing about her background, but I don’t see what her future is. She wasn’t specific.”

Cochran, like most of the other women interviewed after the speeches, said she planned to support DeVore.

“I think he would do a better job,” said Lisa Graham of West Covina. “He’s a lot more conservative than Carly is.”

The women who were undecided said they were torn between Fiorina’s life story and DeVore’s record.

DeVore’s words about small government and lower taxes resonated with Cindy Byers Atha of Malibu, who said she believes he will appeal to everyday voters.

But as a woman who rose through the ranks to became a pharmaceutical sales executive, she also found Fiorina’s background compelling.

“She understands what I go through and deal with as a woman,” she said.

Terri Alexander of Sacramento agreed.

“It’s going to be really hard for me,” she said.