It was a moment that almost didn’t happen, but Wednesday night’s Republican debate turned out to be a watershed moment for Carly Fiorina.
What a roller-coaster ride the last 43 days have been for her. On August 6, she was barely even registering in the polls and was relegated to the “happy hour” debate on Fox News. But she turned in an inspired performance and emerged from that undercard event the clear winner.
Despite that breakout showing and subsequent bump in the polls, Fiorina still wasn’t going to make the top 10 for the second debate on CNN, because its formula for deciding the main event field included polling that happened prior to August 6. Those numbers, despite Fiorina’s newfound popularity, were dragging her overall poll numbers down. She was once again facing a happy hour debate.
Instead, though, she launched a bitter grassroots attack on CNN and ultimately elbowed her way into the prime-time debate.
And she sure didn’t waste the opportunity she created for herself. Fiorina had numerous memorable moments as she tangled with Donald Trump multiple times, telling him, “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said,” about his remarks made in Rolling Stone about her looks.
The only woman in the debate, she differentiated herself from her rivals by scoffing at a question about which woman she’d like to see on the $10 bill, dismissing the idea as simply “a gesture,” and adding, “We ought to recognize that women are not a special interest group.”
She boldly vowed to blow off Vladimir Putin and conduct elaborate military exercises in the Baltic Sea.
And, despite her rhetoric on women, she unleashed a blistering attack on Planned Parenthood that has come under major scrutiny for reportedly containing fabrications.
She did all of this by making sure she got a fair amount of face-time during the debate. Fiorina was third among the candidates in speaking time, at 13 minutes, and led all the candidates in interrupting rivals — she did that six times, according to a tally by the website 538.
How did all Fiorina’s fireworks resonate with possible voters? A quick glance at a few flash polls shows that her fiery answers amount to another breakout performance.
Simply put, she surged. In a poll on The Drudge Report, Fiorina is solidly in second place with 22 percent of the vote as of this writing. Trump was leading with 52 percent. In a poll run by TIME magazine, Fiorina also took second place, capturing some 17 percent of the vote. And in a poll on the more liberal-leaning website Slate, Fiorina nabbed second place as well with 23 percent of the vote. (Trump led both of those polls too.)
As a result of her dramatically raised profile, Fiorina can expect the full force of the media’s scrutiny — particularly on women’s issues, a topic that she, at best, walked a fine line on during the debate. Fiorina’s rhetoric on women’s issues may fall flat with Democratic women, but at least one report paints Fiorina as someone who fought for better gender diversity during her tenure at Hewlett-Packard, but did so under the radar, according to some former colleagues.
The Washington Post reports that several of her former colleagues remember gender diversity being an important issue at HP, one that she actively tried to improve.
However, other former colleagues interviewed by The Post openly criticized Fiorina, with Susan Albert, a high-level manager at HP, saying, “I was no fan of Carly. She just took everyone to task.”