By TESSA WISEMAN
For The News-Letter
Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina is surging in the polls after last Wednesday’s CNN debate. She stood as the lone woman on stage, surrounded by 10 men also vying for the GOP nomination.
According to a recent CNN national poll, Fiorina is now in second place with 15 percent of the vote behind frontrunner Donald Trump. Her ranking represents a significant jump in popularity since early September when she held 3 percent of the vote. Highlights of her debate performance were her strong condemnation of Planned Parenthood, her no-nonsense attitude toward Putin’s Russia and the Iran nuclear deal, and especially her response to current GOP frontrunner Donald Trump’s negative comments about her looks.
“I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said,” Fiorina said.
College Republicans hosted a viewing party for the debate in the Levering Lounge, where students helped themselves to soda and snacks, and political discourse.
For College Republicans President Nitin Nainani, none of the GOP hopefuls were particularly impressive during the three-hour debate.
“Frankly, I thought this debate didn’t have many candidates that stuck out to me. The conventional wisdom is that she won, and I think that is a fair assessment,” Nainani said. “But I think that was more by default, because everyone else, for the most part, was not on the top of their game.”
Nainani said he’s watched Fiorina debate before, back when she was running for the California Senate in 2010. In his opinion, she’s improved markedly since those days. However, Nainani was not wholly satisfied with her performance.
“I thought at times she came off as a little too scripted, to be completely honest,” Nainani said. “I wasn’t the only one at our debate party who felt that way. Her performance was overall good, and she will most likely get a bump in the polls as a result, but I think there are some potentially reasonable questions about the substance in some of her answers that didn’t necessarily meet some expectations.”
Nainani said Fiorina has been cautious, sticking mainly to generic talking points. Once she gets down to the nitty-gritty and opponents start digging, Nainani says the tides could change.
“As she rises in the polls, she’ll get more scrutiny as a frontrunner, and it’ll be interesting to see whether she can withstand that scrutiny,” Nainani said.
Nainani thinks Fiorina’s past at Hewlett-Packard (HP), a Fortune 100 company, could be the epicenter of this scrutiny. Many have qualms about her record as the CEO of HP, and some critics blame her for the company’s recent announcement that they will be terminating 30,000 jobs this year.
“When the attack ads start rolling, you better believe they’re going to go after Fiorina’s record at HP, which I think, frankly, is an albatross in a general election if she was to be the nominee,”
Nainani said. “It could very well make Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital problems look completely minor in comparison.”
Sam Gottuso, president of College Democrats, watched last week’s debate. Despite his fundamental disagreements with Fiorina, he too found her performance commendable.
“I thought she did very well. From a non-partisan standpoint, I thought she did all the right things, she called out the right people,” Gottuso said. “I think her response to Donald Trump was great.
She was very forceful, and she debated well. Her voice was heard.”
Gottuso said that while Fiorina is one to watch, he isn’t expecting her to ride this wave of popularity to the nomination.
“The money is not following her after the debate, and obviously that’s a big thing. You need either the press spotlight or the donations to really sustain a campaign,” Gottuso said. “She took a lot of hits about her record at HP. While I think she is good, I don’t see her [popularity] lasting as long as Donald Trump’s did.”
Liam Haviv, president and founder of Hopkins’ non-partisan IDEAL Voting Club, is more optimistic about the persistence of Fiorina’s popularity.
“I know a lot of Republican women are really into her. She’s intelligent, strong, not getting pushed around. I think she could stay amongst the top of the polls,” Haviv said.
Haviv found himself impressed by Fiorina’s strong stance on sanctions on Tehran, which he called “concise, but unrealistic.”
“For people against the Iran Nuclear deal, and Jews and Israelis, she’ll garner a lot of support. Her strong foreign policy appeals to people. For someone who’s not a politician, she seems very well-versed,” Haviv said.
Gottuso believes part of Fiorina’s current popularity stems from her lack of a political past.
“People obviously don’t want establishment politicians, but at the end of the day, people do want experience. Carly Fiorina’s never held office,” Gottuso said. “I just don’t see nationally, how someone with no experience of holding any kind of office could go from that to the presidency.”
Nainani said he isn’t sold on her “outsider” status either.
“I think her outsider shtick is a little bit overrated. She’s not an outsider the same way that Dr. Ben Carson and Trump are,” Nainani said. “Fiorina was involved in the political process as an advisor on the 2008 McCain campaign; there was actually some discussion of putting her on the ticket as Vice President.”
Nainani said he’s not yet ready to place bets on Fiorina or any of the other candidates.
“It’s still very early in the season. People lose sight of that. It’s only September — votes don’t start coming in until late January and February. Let’s wait for a few months, see who’s still in the race,” Nainani said.