Carly Fiorina tried to extend her surge in the polls Sunday, portraying herself in a television interview as a tough negotiator and hard-nosed manager willing to winnow government inefficiency and bureaucracy.
As one poll showed her in second place among the crowded field of GOP presidential candidates, Fiorina defended her record at Hewlett-Packard, doubled down on cutting federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and said she could bring Democrats to the table on reforming entitlements, cutting taxes and boosting border security.
An increasing number of Republican voters, at least for now, have seized on Fiorina as an antidote to Donald Trump's bombastic style and headline-grabbing quips.
"It's obviously a very important moment, because now more people know who I am and we know, based on what's happened before this debate, that as people come to know me and they understand who I am and what I've done and most importantly, what I will do, they tend to support me," Fiorina said on "Fox News Sunday."
A new CNN/ORC poll showed her in second place in the Republican presidential field, after a debate Wednesday when she took on Trump's reported insults about her, clashed with him over their business records and spoke out against Planned Parenthood's collection of fetal body parts for medical research. Twenty-three million people watched the debate.
The leading GOP candidates remain those who have never held political office, reflecting frustration with career politicians among Republican voters.
Fiorina ranked second with 15% in the CNN/ORC poll, just ahead of retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson but within the poll's margin of error. The poll showed Trump as the front-runner with 24% support, an 8% decrease from one month earlier. Of Republicans who watched the debate, 52% identified Fiorina as the winner and 31% said Trump was the loser.
A poll for NBC News showed Trump with the support of about 3 in 10 self-identified Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. Carson was in second with 14% and Fiorina in third at 11%. Those numbers were also within the margin of error.
Carson, appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, said in response to a question that Islam is inconsistent with the Constitution and that a Muslim should not become president.
"I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation," he said. "I absolutely would not agree with that."
Later Sunday, in an interview with the Hill, Carson said whoever wins the presidency should be "sworn in on a stack of Bibles, not a Koran."
"I do not believe Sharia is consistent with the Constitution of this country," he said.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned Carson's comments and called on him to withdraw from the race.
Some other candidates for the GOP nomination distanced themselves from Carson's stance. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, appearing on "Meet the Press," was asked if he had a problem with a Muslim president.
"That's such a hypothetical question," Kasich said. "The answer is, yeah, at the end of the day, you got to go through the rigors and people will look at everything. But ... for me, the most important thing about being president is you have leadership skills, you know what you're doing, and you can help fix this country and raise this country. Those are the qualifications that matter to me."
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was asked about Carson's statement during an interview on "Iowa Press," an Iowa Public Television program. "The Constitution specifies that there shall be no religious test for public office, and I am a constitutionalist," Cruz said.
The campaign chatter over Islam was triggered last week when Trump did not correct a questioner who called President Obama a Muslim.
On Sunday, however, Trump told "Meet the Press" that a Muslim president "is certainly something that could happen" at some point.
"I feel strongly the Muslims are excellent," Trump said. "I know so many Muslims that are such fabulous people."
During Fiorina's Fox News appearance Sunday, she was questioned about 30,000 layoffs at HP while she ran the tech company. She described the job cuts as culling a "big, bloated bureaucracy that costs too much" and was becoming "inept."
"By the way," Fiorina said, "that's what we have in Washington, D.C."
As president, she said, she would not replace any of the 256,000 baby boomers projected to retire from federal service in the next "four or five" years.
When asked if she was aware that a European subsidiary had sold hundreds of millions of dollars of computers to Iran while she was chief executive, Fiorina said HP is a larger global enterprise than any one of the 50 U.S. states. With a company that large, she said, "it's impossible to ensure that nothing wrong ever happens."
Those sales to Iran were discovered three years after Fiorina left HP, she said. The transactions were investigated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as possible violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran.
"In fact, the SEC investigation proved that neither I nor anyone else in management knew about it and the facts of the matter were the European subsidiary apparently was doing business with another company in the Middle East. That company was doing business with another company that was doing business with Iran. And when the company discovered this three years after I left, they cut off all ties with those companies," she said. "It shouldn't have happened, obviously."
Fiorina continued to attack Planned Parenthood, saying congressional Republicans should shut down the government if annual funding for the organization moves forward next month. Some GOP strategists have advised against a shutdown, saying it could lead to a voter backlash. Fiorina disagreed.
"President Obama can explain to the American people why it is so important to him to continue to fund this organization that no one denies is engaged in this kind of barbarity," she said.
The organization has come under renewed fire from Republicans since the release of undercover videos by an antiabortion group that showed Planned Parenthood officials discussing how fetal tissue can be passed to medical research labs.
Speaking on a different Sunday news show, CBS' "Face the Nation," Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton said she planned to roll out a proposal for controlling the cost of prescription drugs, a problem not addressed in Obama's healthcare law.
"We have a lot of positives. But there are issues that need to be addressed," Clinton said. "I'm going to address them this week, starting with how we're going to try to control the cost of skyrocketing prescription drugs. It's something I hear about everywhere I go."
Clinton's lead in the Democratic primary has weakened in recent weeks as revelations mount about her use of a private email server for official communications while she was secretary of State. "What I did was allowed — it was fully above board," she said. "I'm sorry that I made a choice that has raised all these questions," she said, repeating a previous explanation that she didn't want to use two email accounts. "I didn't make the best choice."
When asked about the top three GOP candidates being political outsiders, Clinton said, "I cannot imagine anyone being more of an outsider than a first woman president."
Times staff writers David Lauter in Washington and Connie Stewart in Los Angeles contributed to this report.