Former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina said Wednesday that she is suspending her campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, following a lackluster showing in the New Hampshire primary.
Fiorina, 61, had pitched herself as an outsider who could bring a business mentality and global contacts to the White House — and who would not be afraid to attack Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. But she was badly outspent as she was unable to translate strong debate performances and enthusiastic crowds in early appearances in key primary states into sustained poll momentum — or into votes, coming in seventh in the Iowa caucuses, with less than 2 percent of the vote, and also seventh in New Hampshire, with 4 percent.
“While I suspend my candidacy today, I will continue to travel this country and fight for those Americans who refuse to settle for the way things are and a status quo that no longer works for them,” Fiorina said in a Facebook post announcing her decision.
Fiorina’s campaign had been presented with a key opportunity last fall after two strong debate performances that showcased her direct delivery style and command of the issues powered a rise in the polls. In the undercard round of the first GOP debate of the season, in August in Cleveland, she won enough support to propel her onto the main stage for September’s CNN-sponsored debate at the Reagan Presidential Library in California.
There, she went toe to toe with Donald Trump, who had made disparaging comments about her appearance to Rolling Stone magazine. The businessman tried to explain away the remark, but Fiorina pushed back. “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said,” she said, to sustained applause.
Her debate performance caught the attention of social conservatives with attacks on Planned Parenthood and abortion. At her peak, in early October, polls showed her in second place in New Hampshire, according to an average of surveys compiled by RealClearPolitics. In Iowa and South Carolina, she placed third in polls.
But with Trump monopolizing media attention — and a business-oriented outsider label — and without the deep campaign organization of the other leading candidates, Fiorina saw her opportunity slip away, as she hovered for months at 3 percent or less in surveys of most early-voting states. Last month, she offered Trump $2 million to return to the debate stage following his announcement that he would skip the Fox News Channel face-off in Des Moines. The offer passed with little notice.
At the heart of Fiorina’s campaign pitch was her experience at the helm of Hewlett-Packard from 1999 to 2005 — the first woman to lead such a massive corporation. But a particular challenge was her mixed record at the company. Hewlett-Packard, like many technology firms at the time, struggled through the bursting of the dot-com bubble. She oversaw a controversial merger with Compaq before being forced out in February 2005, receiving a $21 million severance package.
Her time as an adviser to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) during his 2008 presidential bid was also rocky. She defended McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, against attacks she said were “sexist” — but was yanked off the television circuit after she said, in response to a question, that neither McCain nor Palin would be able to run a major corporation.
In November 2009, Fiorina — who had just battled cancer and lost her stepdaughter to drug addiction — announced that she would challenge Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) for her seat. Her struggles in that race foreshadowed her challenges as a presidential candidate: Even with her vast web of wealthy connections, she struggled to raise as much money as Boxer and chipped in millions of her own. Boxer was resoundingly reelected in 2010.
In New Hampshire, where Fiorina focused much of her attention during her presidential bid, she had long languished in the low single digits — even as she conceded that her candidacy hinged on her ability to overperform there and elsewhere.
She also struggled to reach voters who were focused more on national security after the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. Fiorina touted her credentials as an adviser to the Defense Department and the State Department, and she invariably described the Israeli prime minister as “my good friend Bibi Netanyahu.” But most voters viewed her primarily as a businesswoman.
Her campaign relied heavily on an independent super PAC called CARLY for America for traditional campaign activities — a strategy that may have segregated the candidate from the grass-roots elements of her campaign, making it more difficult for her to build on the buzz generated by the debates in a focused and nimble way. The campaign and the super PAC also were slow to reinforce Fiorina’s debate messages with ads that might have boosted her name recognition among Republicans at a time when interest in her was spiking, announcing the first New Hampshire ad buy in early December. By then, it was too late.
“She sort of had a moment, then she faded,” Katie Packer Gage, former deputy campaign manager for Mitt Romney, said in December.
Late in the campaign, Fiorina used her underdog status to highlight her chief closing argument. “The establishment thinks it owns this country,” she said at the Fox News debate last month. “The pundits think they own this country. The media thinks they own this country. We were intended to be a citizen government, citizens. The game is rigged. You have the power. Take our country back.”