New attacks are a good sign for GOP candidate Fiorina

Conservative author and media personality Ann Coulter declared on a recent radio show that she despised Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina “with the hot, hot hate of a thousand suns” over her support for birthright citizenship. Her ascension in the GOP field was prompted by “affirmative action among Republicans,” Coulter said.

Former Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann, who was a front-runner in the presidential polls at this point four years ago, and other conservatives questioned Fiorina’s judgment for a speech she made shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks praising the contributions of Muslims to society.

And in recent weeks, Democrats have been highlighting stories about Fiorina’s rocky tenure at Hewlett-Packard Co. The super PAC backing Fiorina’s candidacy went on offense, taking out a full-page ad in The New York Times last week defending her stewardship of the Silicon Valley firm.

The attacks come at a crucial time as Fiorina appears to have clawed her way onto the prime-time stage at this month’s Republican debate in California. It’s quite a turn from earlier this year, when Fiorina was such an afterthought in the race for the GOP nomination that no one bothered with her (aside from Donald Trump, who appears to enjoy poking at much of the GOP field). Some of her Republican rivals even routinely praised her.

“Nobody was worried too much about her before; no one was attacking her, looking at her record. All of those things can happen once you actually become a threat to somebody,” said Katie Packer Gage, a GOP strategist and deputy campaign manager for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential bid. “That’s a good problem to have.”

After announcing her candidacy, Fiorina, who in 2010 unsuccessfully ran for Senate from California after being fired from Hewlett-Packard, routinely registered 0 percent support in the polls. But a widely praised performance in what some called the “happy hour debate” in August — featuring GOP candidates who failed to register enough poll support to crack the top 10 — has fueled momentum.

In national polls and surveys of voters in Iowa and New Hampshire since the Aug. 6 debate, Fiorina regularly places in the top third among the 17 GOP candidates. In some surveys, Fiorina bests former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Ark. Gov. Mike Huckabee, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, all of whom appeared in the prime-time debate.

But until Tuesday, it was not going to be enough to vault Fiorina onto the main stage for the Sept. 16 debate that CNN will host at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley. The cable news station had planned to use averaging of polls since July 16 — weeks before Fiorina began to improve her standings. She described the criteria as unfair because it was based on polling that measured name identification more than anything else.

On Tuesday, CNN announced that it was amending its debate criteria. The cable network said that any candidate who polled in the top 10 in an average of national surveys between Aug. 7 and Sept. 10 would be given a podium at the debate.

CNN said in a statement that when it originally set the debate criteria, it anticipated at least 15 national polls after the August debate but has since learned that there will be only five.

“As a result, we now believe we should adjust the criteria to ensure the next debate best reflects the most current state of the national race,” the network said.

Although who will take the debate stage will not be formally set until Sept. 10, Fiorina celebrated the decision.

“Huge news: I’m in the debate,” her campaign emailed supporters in a fundraising plea that contained an image of boxing gloves. “The political class teamed up to try to push me off the stage. You helped me punch back! But this was just the first round in a long fight.”

Fiorina’s support in the polls is driven in part by restive voters who are frustrated by the status quo and are seriously considering outsiders such as her, businessman Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson.

“We’re living in a new time now where we really need change,” said Greg Long, a 68-year-old limo driver who heard Fiorina speak at the State Historical Museum of Iowa steps away from the gold-domed state Capitol in Des Moines. The registered Republican favors Fiorina and Carson. “We really need change. We’ve been doing the same old thing over and over again and getting the same lousy result.”

Fiorina makes her case by saying polling shows that the majority of Americans think the federal government is corrupt and that professional politicians are more focused on themselves than the nation’s well-being.

“The political class has failed you and that’s what I think you’re seeing reflected in my candidacy, among others,” Fiorina said at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines.

Judy Shkolnick and Judy Deutch did not know much about Fiorina aside from her tenure at Hewlett-Packard. But the two Democrats were so impressed by Fiorina’s debate performance that they decided to see her in person. After listening to Fiorina’s hourlong speech to Jewish voters in Waukee, a suburb of Des Moines, they said they found Fiorina electrifying.

“She could answer any questions thrown to her,” said Deutch, 64, a Clive resident who works in insurance compliance. “She seemed very competent, knowledgeable and a fresh change.”