Carly Fiorina calls 2010 Senate race a model for presidential run

Carly Fiorina
Carly Fiorina, shown in March, said Tuesday that she would run for president as a conservative who can win over moderates, independents and Democrats.
(Jin Watson / AFP/Getty Images)

Carly Fiorina pointed to an unlikely inspiration for her potential bid for the presidency: her unsuccessful 2010 campaign to represent California in the U.S. Senate.

The former Hewlett-Packard chief executive lost that election by 10 percentage points to Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer in a race that many Republicans had considered winnable and outside analysts regarded a significant disappointment for the party.

But as she faces skepticism about a potential run in a crowded Republican presidential primary next year, Fiorina said Thursday that the Senate election provided important lessons for her.

“When I entered the California Senate race one year before the election -- bold, because I had just finished chemotherapy -- all the polls and all the pundits said I didn’t have a shot,” she said at a breakfast in Washington sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

She painted her win in a three-way GOP primary as a significant success, injecting more drama in that primary victory than many saw at the time. She entered the race with a deficit in opinion polls but with lots of money and party support.

“I ran as a pro-life conservative. In California you don’t do that unless you really believe it -- not good politics -- and yet I unified the party as a pro-life conservative,” she said. For a Republican, running statewide in California as an abortion opponent is common.

“I lost the general election, but I won more Republican votes, more Democratic votes, and more independent votes than virtually anyone else running anywhere in the country that year,” Fiorina said. (She acknowledged that the state’s large population boosted those numbers.)

Fiorina said she would run for president as a conservative who can win over moderates, independents and Democrats.

Fiorina said she could run “based on my experience in California that you can win with people not because they agree with you 100% of the time on 100% of the issues but because they understand your core, they trust your judgment, and they believe that you have empathy and concern.”

Fiorina barely registers in most presidential polls. She is trying to sell her business background, but contrasted herself with Mitt Romney, the failed 2012 nominee, by insisting that she was better able to connect with the struggles of average Americans by conveying more empathy.

If she wins the nomination, Hillary Rodham Clinton “won’t be able to play the gender card” in the general election, she said.

During an hourlong discussion, Fiorina strayed little from Republican orthodoxy. She gave a robust critique of President Obama’s Iran deal, said Democratic policies were hurting small businesses, and called for fewer regulations.

She also painted the federal government as unaccountable, twice saying that federal employees could spend their days watching pornography on their computers without losing their jobs.

But she said “tone matters hugely.” As an example, she pointed to discussions over the social safety net. Typically, Republicans say welfare recipients should be compelled to work because it saves money, she said.

“No,” she said. “We need a work requirement to save lives.”

For more on Californians in Washington, follow @NoahBierman on Twitter.