Carly Fiorina is laying the groundwork for what one ally says is an “imminent” presidential campaign—one that could launch as early as next month.
The former Hewlett-Packard CEO, who raised her political profile with a failed run against Sen. Barbara Boxer of California in 2010, has frequently been mentioned as a long-shot contender to seek the Republican presidential nomination. The speculation is driven by equal parts novelty and activity: Fiorina, who paid several high-profile visits to early-nominating states in 2014, acknowledged that she would likely be the only woman in the GOP field.
“Look, I think it would be great if we had female candidates—or candidate,” Fiorina told National Journal earlier this year.
Fiorina is now poised to become that candidate. According to three sources with direct knowledge of the situation, she has authorized members of her inner circle to seek out and interview candidates for two key positions on her presidential campaign: political director and communications director. Notably, the sources said, her associates are aiming to fill both positions with women.
The search, sources say, is being spearheaded by Amy Noone Frederick, a Republican consultant who sits with Fiorina on the American Conservative Union Foundation’s board of directors.
One Republican operative was recently approached about a position with the Unlocking Potential Project, Fiorina’s super PAC. The operative, who asked not to be named, said that in the course of the interview one of Fiorina’s allies began gauging interest in a separate position “for a certain presidential candidate who is gearing up for a run.”
It’s unclear if any hires have been made, and emails to officials with Fiorina’s PAC were not returned.
Still, people familiar with Fiorina’s camp say the organizational outreach proves that she’s serious about getting a campaign off the ground—and quickly. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is already effectively in the race and consuming other contenders’ oxygen. If Fiorina wants to jump in and make a media splash, she probably can’t afford to wait much longer.
“It appears that they want to move fast, which is smart,” said Jason Cabel Roe, a Republican consultant in California. “Carly getting in as the 10th candidate is not nearly as interesting as Carly getting in as the first or second candidate.”
Meanwhile, as she seeks to make significant personnel moves, Fiorina has also maneuvered to promote herself in front of influential conservative audiences in the early part of next year—a key set of auditions that could very well coincide with the launch of a campaign.
Fiorina, who chairs the ACU Foundation board, is said to have already secured a prime speaking slot at the ACU’s 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference. That event will be held in the D.C. suburbs on the last weekend of February. But the bigger prize is one weekend earlier. Fiorina, sources say, has accepted a coveted invitation to deliver the keynote address to the Council for National Policy—home to many of the conservative movement’s biggest donors—at its private gathering in southern California.
“February’s going to be a big month for her, with two signature events where she’s going to have a big role,” said one prominent conservative activist leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of his involvement with both the ACU and CNP. “One speech in front of movement leadership, then one speech in front of grassroots activists—those are going to be big moments for her.”
If her message stays consistent with appearances of late, Fiorina will hope to appeal to these audiences as a political outsider. But she is hardly without political connections.
While serving as an adviser to Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, Fiorina was named chairwoman of a Republican National Committee fundraising initiative. She parlayed that role into a speaking slot at that year’s GOP convention, and had even generated some buzz as a dark-horse vice-presidential pick.
Though she could not overcome California’s liberal electorate in her 2010 Senate race, Fiorina showed significant improvement on the stump over the life of the campaign. Her 10-point loss did not tarnish her stature as a rising star among Republican women; in fact, her opportunities and exposure have steadily increased. She served as a vice chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2012. Her successful takeover of the ACU Foundation board last year was the clearest indication yet of her political chops—and ambition.
That said, if and when Fiorina pulls the trigger on a presidential run, she will enter the contest a decided underdog. She enjoys little national name recognition, lacks a top-notch political team, and has never won a major race for public office. Not only did she lose by double digits in 2010, she left the campaign with a significant amount of debt, some of which remains unretired more than four years later. (This fact is not lost on Republicans who have examined her viability as a sleeper candidate.)
But none of that may matter. Several people familiar with Fiorina’s operation suspect that her ultimate goal is not winning the nomination, but rather breaking through what is expected to be an all-male Republican field and positioning herself for the second spot on the GOP ticket.
“I don’t think Carly’s running for president. I think Carly’s running for vice president,” said Roe, the California Republican. “If Hillary Clinton’s the nominee, Republicans need a woman front and center—probably on the ticket. And Carly knows that.”