Carly Fiorina Hiring for Presidential Campaign

Despite her improving political skills, the California businesswoman would be an underdog in a likely all-male GOP field.

Carly Fiorina, Chairman of Good360, and former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, speaks at the National Press Club, July 1, 2013 in Washington, DC. Ms. Fiorina was the guest speaker for the Press Club's newsmaker luncheon and spoke about American innovation and leadership in the 21st century. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
National Journal
Tim Alberta
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Tim Alberta
Dec. 18, 2014, 2:51 p.m.

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.”

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