Republican Carly Fiorina failed to qualify for the main stage at the first GOP presidential debate on Aug. 6 in Cleveland. But recent polls suggest she got a boost from her standout performance in a smaller forum for candidates who were polling at the bottom of the field.
In her bid for the presidency, Fiorina is positioning herself as a conservative alternative to Democrat Hillary Clinton. The former Hewlett-Packard CEO is the only woman in the GOP race, and she has repeatedly criticized Clinton on the campaign trail.
Fiorina spoke to voters at the Iowa State Fair on Monday. As she stepped on stage at The Des Moines Register's Soapbox, Fiorina announced she'd skip the typical stump speech and go right to taking questions.
To get the ball rolling, Fiorina told the crowd about a question she got early in the campaign.
"I was asked on a national television program whether a woman's hormones prevented her from serving in the Oval Office," she said, as the crowd laughed. "So, can we think of a single instance in which a man's judgment might have been clouded by his hormones? Any at all?"
With that, Fiorina repeated a line she's been using on the campaign trail, taking a not-so-subtle jab at former President Bill Clinton.
She used a question about her foreign policy platform to launch another barb at the Clintons, saying she knows more world leaders than any other candidate, "with the possible exception of Hillary Clinton," Fiorina said. "Only I didn't do photo ops — I had substantive meetings."
Fiorina says Russian President Vladimir Putin is among those leaders with whom she has met. In Iowa, she continued the forceful, hawkish foreign policy message she's been delivering on the stump, and again criticized the Obama administration's handling of Russian aggression in Eastern Europe.
"I would not call Vladimir Putin. We have spoken way too often to him," Fiorina said. Instead, she pledged to conduct military exercises and strengthen the nation's missile defense. With that, she said, "Mr. Putin would get the message."
On domestic issues, Fiorina lined up with other GOP candidates who have opposed federal funding for Planned Parenthood. The organization receives public funds to provide health screenings for low-income women. The use of federal funding for abortions is mostly banned.
"Anyone who buys the Democrat argument that this is about women's health, you need to look at all the other facilities that provide women's health services," Fiorina said.
Those comments drew applause and a few boos from the crowd.
Fiorina impressed voter Kathy Wagemann of Clive, Iowa. She described herself as pro-life and an independent. She described Fiorina as "dynamic."
"I can't disagree with anything she said," Wagemann said after the speech.
Wagemann said she voted for both Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. But she wouldn't vote for the other woman running for president in 2016. Wagemann said Hillary Clinton isn't answering enough questions, and she'd like to see her go head-to-head with Fiorina.
"That would be a very interesting debate, I would say, and I would think Carly would just win hands down. Because she's got some specifics and not generalities," Wagemann said. "I would love to see a Hillary-Carly debate."
For now, Fiorina's competition is the 16 other candidates in her own party. Most have come to the Iowa State Fair this week.
Rex Townsend of Corning, Iowa, was standing by as Fiorina sampled Iowa sweet corn. He wore both a Scott Walker campaign T-shirt and a Carly Fiorina sticker.
Townsend said Fiorina would make a good vice president, though he could envision her at the top of the ticket. He said Walker, who was also at the fair on Monday, might have an edge as the governor of Wisconsin.
"The fact the he's run a state government," Townsend said, "it gives him that perspective which she doesn't have. Although, she has the perspective of running a large business."
That's a case Fiorina has been making as she campaigns, telling her story of rising from a secretary at a small real estate firm to a corporate CEO at Hewlett-Packard.
Her challenge will be to convince voters that her executive experience qualifies her for the highest executive office in the nation.
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