Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina was one of the stars -- if not the star -- of last week's twin presidential debates. Poised and confident, she looked like she belonged on the big stage. And polling since the debates suggests that Fiorina is getting a bit of a bump from her star turn in Cleveland. Trying to gain some insight into the new "it" candidate of the 2016 race, I reached out to Marty Wilson, who managed Fiorina's unsuccessful 2010 California Senate campaign. Our conversation, conducted via e-mail and edited only for grammar, is below.
FIX: Describe Carly Fiorina as a candidate at the start of her 2010 campaign.
WILSON: Recall that at the start of the 2010 campaign, Carly had undergone cancer surgery and was in the final stages of completing chemo, so her energy level was not near what it is today. We used this period to work with her to drill down on her issue positions as we didn’t know whether she was a conservative, moderate or even liberal — as she’d be characterized by one of her opponents. She quickly picked up the pace in early 2010 with her growing confidence and the positive feedback she was receiving from the campaign trail.
FIX: What was Fiorina's greatest strength in that race?
WILSON: Carly is the best retail campaigner that I have ever seen. She connects with voters in a way that leaves her opponents scratching their heads. She does well on TV -- witness the debates -- but is particularly good in small groups and one-on-one meetings. She has humor, empathy and intelligence.
FIX: She got 42 percent against Boxer in 2010, a very good Republican year nationally. What went wrong?
WILSON: Well, this is California after all. Those red waves seem to die out along the state's coastal range, so that’s the easiest explanation. But there are a couple of other points: Carly lost to Boxer by 1 million votes, but 700,000 of those came out of Los Angeles County, with the balance from the more liberal Bay Area. Carly won all the Southern California counties, the central valley and the North State. Boxer was aided by numerous visits by the Clintons and Obama. We had zero major surrogates.
FIX: Did you expect Carly to run again? What was her mood after the loss?
WILSON: Carly was bummed after the loss, but I encouraged her to stay involved and run again. I told Carly she should run for president in 2012 and she said I was “Nuts." I am not surprised she is running again, nor am I surprised by her showing.
FIX: How would you assess her performance thus far in the presidential race? Where has she most improved? And how does she go from where she is to the top tier?
WILSON: I think Carly is doing great thus far as a candidate, and her ability to articulate the issues in a concise fashion has improved. To get to the next level, Carly needs to break through in one of the early states, and I am not really equipped to say which one that may be. Money will be a problem, because you need it to get your message out through broadcast and other electronic mediums, and you need it for organization. I am unclear how far Carly’s ability to appeal to small donors will take her. She needs some mega-givers to gain parity with the better-funded candidates.