Has Carly Fiorina figured out how to counter Donald Trump?

Many have tried to counter Donald Trump, with little success so far. But Carly Fiorina might have found a way to turn one of his jibes into a jump in the polls.

Jim Cole/AP
Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina speaks at the annual Seacoast Republican Women's chili festival Saturday in Stratham, N.H.

Has Carly Fiorina transformed an insult from Donald Trump into a political positive for herself? None of the other 2016 GOP hopefuls have managed that feat. But it’s possible Ms. Fiorina has done it via a positive campaign ad that’s one of the best spots so far at this early point in the campaign season.

It’s called “Faces.” It plays off Mr. Trump’s recent dismissive comments about the ex-Hewlett Packard CEO, made in a Rolling Stone interview. Seeing Fiorina in a TV news clip, Trump criticized her face in the reporter’s presence.

“Would anyone vote for that?” said Trump, to guffaws from his aides. “Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”

The Fiorina spot – OK, technically it’s from a super PAC that supports her – turns that crack around so it is a mark of honor.

It starts with Fiorina herself on stage shortly after Trump’s comment became public. “Ladies, look at this face,” she says.

Then it begins quick cutting, to close ups of a range of ordinary women, just smiling for the camera.

“And look at all of your faces,” Fiorina says. “The face of leadership. The face of leadership in our party, the party of women’s suffrage.”

It builds from there. Face after face flips by as the music builds. It never mentions Trump. Instead, it makes a quick jab at the “Democrat Party.” But the message is clear: Carly Fiorina is not a supermodel, and neither are most women. Deal with it.

“This is the face of a 61-year-old woman,” she concludes. “I am proud of every year and every wrinkle.”

It’s simple, direct. It’s no “Demon Sheep,” the crazy attack ad from Fiorina’s California Senate campaign that’s classic in a bad way. “Faces” gets the job done.

“Fiorina only candidate who has figured out how to weaponize a trump attack against her,” tweeted Stephen Miller, a right-leaning journalist and contributor to National Review, on Monday.

This is one more bit of evidence that Trump versus Fiorina might be the most interesting matchup of Wednesday’s GOP debate. Unlike Jeb Bush, Fiorina seems eager to go up the escalation ladder with The Donald, on stage, insult for insult. She’s said that maybe she’s getting under his skin a little bit, which is why he jibed about her face in the first place.

And she’s got a lot to gain, because at this point in the race she needs something Trump has: media attention. Her net favorability rating among Republicans is actually higher than Trump’s, according to Gallup. But her familiarity rating is below-average for the GOP field, meaning lots of potential supporters don’t know much about her. Stories about her conflict with the Republican front-runner can help remedy this problem.

If the first debate go-round was any indication, Fiorina’s good at debating, too. She was in the early, kid’s-table debate on Fox, but she’s been promoted to the big stage for CNN’s coming debate on Wednesday.

There’s one big caveat here, there. Fiorina may be rising, but she’s rising from a very small poll rating, and she’s got a long way to go. In the wake of the first debate she popped up to a range of 5 to 8 percent in national polls. Since then she’s regressed – a just released ABC/Washington Post survey found that she’s the choice of only 2 percent of GOP voters.

Overall, the RealClearPolitics rolling average of major polls has her at 4.4 percent. That puts her in sixth place overall – 20 points behind The Donald.

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