Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina’s entry Wednesday into the Republican primaries for the US Senate seat from California could potentially shake up next year’s race. Ms. Fiorina used an op-ed in The Orange County Register to formally announce that she is running to be the Republican candidate against Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, who has held the seat since 1992.
How well Fiorina does will depend on a host of factors, say political analysts, from how the economy is doing by election day to whether she survives her formidable opponent in the Republican primary, state Assemblyman Chuck Devore.
Fiorina, who was economic adviser to Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona during his presidential campaign last year, on Wednesday criticized Senator Boxer for doing nothing to stem California’s job losses.
“Boxer may be in for the political fight of her life,” says Jessica Levinson, political analyst for the Center for Governmental Studies (CGS). “If last night’s election results are any indication, the pendulum may be swinging back in favor of Republicans.”
Fiorina is a relative newcomer to politics with deep pockets, which could work in her favor or against it, Ms. Levinson and others say.
“While Fiorina won’t seem like a Washington insider, and could try to position herself as the breath of fresh air needed to help turn California’s economy around, voters know little about her, other than that she was first woman to lead a Fortune 500 company and left under less-than-ideal conditions,” says Levinson. “In that way, she may seem like a risky choice.”
Another factor will be how well Senator Boxer deals with the kind of opponent she has never had before in a general election: a female opponent and a moderate with money.
“There are different motivations for women voters now,” says Barbara O’Connor, director of the Institute for Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento. She says both national pollster Gallup and California Field Poll have identified a new voting phenomenon that has replaced last year’s “soccer mom” – the “worried suburban mom” who, she says, may be hungrier for a politician like Boxer.
“Boxer is much more archetypal of the woman who does it all – mother, grandmother, community organizer – and represents one of the liberal bastions of the US Congress,” says Ms. O’Connor.
Boxer is also an indefatigable campaigner and money raiser, O'Connor notes.
But a Boxer/Fiorina matchup is by no means inevitable.
“Fiorina is not a sure thing to get the nomination,” says Robert Stern, president of CGS. “Chuck Devore will appeal to the conservative base who will be energized to vote in the primary. While she will outspend Devore, he has the troops. Don’t underestimate the power of conservatives in a Republican primary.”
Her political skill – or lack thereof – will likely come into play here, experts say.
“She will have to work hard to win the nomination, showing the kind of political savvy that was distinctly missing during her unhappy tenure with the McCain campaign, ” says John J. Pitney, a professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College.
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