Carly Fiorina, the only Republican woman running for president in 2016, has quietly been leveraging the support of Marjorie Dannenfelser, one of the most powerful women in conservative politics.
Just don’t call it an “endorsement.”
Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a leading anti-abortion group, has played a critical role in Fiorina’s nascent 2016 run. She has introduced the candidate at private gatherings of top conservatives, made fundraising appeals on her behalf, served as an unofficial surrogate on national television, and penned a glowing op-ed praising Fiorina’s “poise under fire” and calling her “a woman uniquely prepared for leadership on the national stage.”
But the one thing Dannenfelser won’t do is formally endorse Fiorina — even if her support of the 2016 candidate has become apparent to the rival campaigns.
“Because I admire and like her and support her leadership so much, I’m doing everything I can possibly do to give her visibility. But that isn’t necessarily an endorsement,” Dannenfelser said. “It may feel like it. And if that’s the case, fine.”
Dannenfelser’s denial of an endorsement comes on the heels of two joint appearances that erased any doubt about her loyalties in the minds of allies in the conservative movement.
Fiorina served as the mistress of ceremonies at the SBA List gala in April, at which Dannenfelser repeatedly singled out Fiorina for praise, while several other 2016 contenders were also in attendance. And a month later, at a private meeting of the Council for National Policy, a secretive group of conservatives, Dannenfelser introduced Fiorina to the audience of her fellow activist leaders. After Fiorina’s speech, when she was asked during the Q&A to name a conservative leader in her inner circle, Fiorina pointed to Dannenfelser.
One CNP member, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the group’s off-the-record rules, said that event cemented a long-perculating rumor that Dannenfelser is backing Fiorina in 2016. This member, who works for another candidate, says rival campaigns have been making it known, “Marjorie is with Carly — don’t waste your time.”
“I can understand why it would look like that,” Dannenfelser responded. “And if there’s an appearance that she’s someone who I align myself with the most, it’s true, because we’re both women and “¦ we speak about this in similar ways. I think she’s very savvy, she’s fearless, she’s all the things we’re every looking for in a woman who’s running. So if it appears I’ve aligned myself with her, I have.”
Fiorina’s campaign denied that an endorsement has taken place, but acknowledged Dannenfelser’s support. “We’re big fans of Marjorie and the work she does. And Carly obviously has a committed pro-life record,” said Sarah Isgur Flores, Fiorina’s deputy campaign manager. “As Carly says, you don’t run as a pro-life conservative in California unless you really mean it. So they’ve been friends for a long time, and we certainly welcome her support.”
Indeed, the relationship between the two women is rooted in Fiorina’s unsuccessful 2010 Senate run against Democrat Barbara Boxer. Fiorina auditioned for SBA List’s endorsement during that race, and to this day, Dannenfelser tells her allies it was “probably the best interview we have ever had” with a candidate. SBA List not only endorsed Fiorina, but also did an independent expenditure on her behalf — and Dannenfelser became a visible defender of Fiorina in the face of attacks from abortion-rights groups.
Dannenfelser again took that role last month, when Planned Parenthood mailed a fundraising note to its supporters asking them to vote on which Republican presidential candidate “poses the worst threat for women in 2016.” Within 48 hours Dannenfelser was on Fox News Channel blasting the survey and calling Fiorina “one of the strongest, smartest, most successful women in America.”
Despite her clear support for Fiorina, it’s not surprising that Dannenfelser has held off on an official endorsement. For one thing, her grassroots-driven group might recoil from such a decision eight months before the first primary ballot is cast. Moreover, Dannenfelser, as a CNP member and influential player in the conservative movement, is part of active discussions aimed at coalescing support behind a single candidate who might defeat the establishment favorite.
Her group was part of a similar effort in February 2012, when SBA List joined other conservative groups in endorsing Rick Santorum in the GOP primary against Mitt Romney. But it was too little, too late, as Santorum already was outgunned both organizationally and financially. Conservative leaders are hoping to prevent a similar outcome in 2016 by choosing a candidate much earlier — but Dannenfelser says she probably won’t be part of that collective maneuver, possibly because of her support for Fiorina.
“It’s extremely unlikely that I would do that. There is no alignment right now behind a single candidate that we can see,” she said. “I won’t give up my decision-making ability to someone else.”
Dannenfelser dismissed the idea that she’s holding off on a public endorsement to maximize its impact for Fiorina’s campaign. But she did not dispute the help she’s been giving Fiorina, both publicly and privately. “She is as close to a spiritual sister as we have,” Dannenfelser said. “And I’ll be honest: I am doing everything I can to support her.”
She then mentioned Wisconsin, where a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks will soon land on the governor’s desk, and added: “But we’re also going to be doing the same thing with Scott Walker for the next two weeks.”
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