After winning GOP primary, Fiorina must reach California moderates in Senate race

By Kevin Freking, AP
Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Fiorina’s test will be to attract moderate voters

LOS ANGELES — There was no deterring Carly Fiorina from winning over the Republican base during the GOP primary for U.S. Senate.

Social conservatives were comforted by her opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage. Fiscal conservatives liked her repeated criticism of government spending run amok.

However, the conservatives Fiorina worked so hard to win represent a distinct minority within California. As she seeks to defeat three-term Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer in the general election, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard Co. will have to win over an electorate in November that disagrees with her on many issues.

For example, most voters in California support a woman’s right to have an abortion, oppose expanded oil drilling off the West Coast, and maintain a favorable opinion of President Barack Obama.

As a Field Poll indicated last week, a majority want a senator who will promote the policies of the Obama administration. Fiorina spent much of the primary campaign blasting those very policies.

Whether she can expand her appeal to moderates without flip-flopping will be critical to how she performs in the fall.

Analysts say Fiorina’s extensive business experience could help her bridge the gap with moderates looking for a political outsider.

“No. 1, she has to de-emphasize the social issues. She’s not going to win if abortion is front-and-center,” said Jack Pitney, a political science professor from Claremont McKenna College. “She’ll want to talk about the fiscal issues and tie it to her business experience.”

The Fiorina campaign said it would be a mistake to believe moderates are not concerned about government spending and taxes, two issues that will be a focus of her general election strategy.

Fiorina’s primary method of wooing moderates will be to portray Boxer as a Washington insider. Boxer has been in Congress for 28 years — 18 as a senator. That strategy was on full display after Fiorina’s victory Tuesday night and in her first public appearance Wednesday.

“In her 28 years of being a career politician in Washington, D.C., Barbara Boxer has been a bitter partisan who has said much but accomplished little,” Fiorina said in her victory speech. “She may get an A for politics, but she gets an F for achievement.”

The strategy of highlighting Boxer’s lengthy tenure in Washington is the sort of thing that will appeal to voters such as Mary Jane Williams, a registered Democrat from Fresno County.

“We need to get rid of everyone who’s in there and start all over again,” Williams said after voting Tuesday.

Fiorina, 55, ran Hewlett-Packard for about 5½ years before she was dismissed by the company’s board of directors in early 2005. Fiorina’s HP experience likely will be a mixed blessing, helping with some voters but hurting with others.

Still, that tenure has given her enough of a personal fortune to make her dangerous against Boxer, who will not be able to overwhelm Fiorina on the airwaves. In 2004, GOP nominee Bill Jones didn’t air a single ad during his race against Boxer.

Fiorina loaned her campaign $5.5 million in the primary, which was more than her challengers could raise, combined. She was the only candidate with a sustained presence on television, which turned the election in her favor in the campaign’s final month.

“She brings a lot of money. She’ll fire up the right wing,” Boxer said, when asked to identify Fiorina’s strengths.

Boxer emphasized points where she believes Fiorina is outside the California mainstream, such as when Fiorina said during a debate that people on the government’s no-fly list should be allowed to purchase guns.

“It’s a question of who is in touch and who is out of touch,” Boxer said in a telephone interview on Election Day.

Fiorina’s campaign seemed to get a boost in the Republican primary when she was endorsed by former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. The two worked together when Fiorina served as an adviser on the McCain-Palin presidential ticket in 2008.

Palin, now a Fox News analyst, is a divisive figure. Her support for Fiorina will turn off some general election voters in a state where Democrats and moderate independents account for two-thirds of the electorate.

Fiorina’s support for the Arizona law targeting illegal immigration could turn off Hispanics, an important voting bloc in California. The law requires police to ask people about their immigration status if there is reasonable suspicion that they’re in the country illegally.

What is clear is that the two candidates have little in common, other than a common disdain for the other.

“This election is about a choice between two people who couldn’t be more different,” Boxer said.

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