Fiorina would be the fifth Silicon Valley executive to try to gain statewide office in California, marking the virtual completion of the transition of the state's politics from ethnic enclaves and old industrial and agricultural interests to the IT world. This coming year, all three GOP gubernatorial candidates — MegWhitman, state insurance commissioner and high tech entrepreneur Steve Poizner, and former congressman Tom Campbell — have ties to the IT universe.
Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina announced Wednesday she wants to be California’s next senator. Fiorina may be a strong challenger to incumbent Barbara Boxer, but she will first have to live through a fierce Republican primary against a canny opponent, state assembly member Chuck DeVore that may become an another vicious fight between Republican moderates and right wing knife fighters.
Fiorina made her announcement to an audience in Orange County, a traditional stronghold of Republican politics in California. Fiorina has called herself “a political newcomer who actually knows how to get something done” and promised to use her business acumen to lower the budget deficit (currently sitting at $85 billion), create jobs, bring her government experience as a member of a couple of advisory boards to bear on government management, soothe the afflicted and bring world peace. Okay, that last one is a standard of beauty pageants a la “Miss Congeniality” – but come to think of it, Fiorina, at least in her PR photos, does look like the beauty contest winner who just happened to enter business, learn the secrets and strike it rich.
Fiorina has already taken on major flak from the redoubtable California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton, who sniggered at Fiorina as “yet another millionaire neophyte in search of a new hobby,” a sly reference to former eBay Inc. CEO Meg Whitman, a Republican running for governor. Shoving the shiv in a little further, Burton added, “The last thing Californians need in a U.S. Senator is a failed CEO who was fired by her last employer after taking $100 million for herself. In these tough times, hard-working Californians need a Senator who will fight to create jobs, not a millionaire former executive who laid off more than 28,000 Americans and shipped jobs overseas.”
Hewlett-Packard’s board fired Fiorina in 2005 after she forced HP’s acquisition of Compaq in a deal that dropped HP’s market value by some embarrassing numbers. The 55-year-old Fiorina served as economic adviser to John McCain’s failed presidential bid last year (before the campaign unceremoniously dropped her). Her time with the flailing McCain campaign increased her national profile some, but 75% of Californians still think they don’t know enough about her to express an opinion on her – except perhaps for those former HP employees who have lost their jobs. That point should give an insight into Democratic tactics should she emerge successfully from the Republican primary fight.
Fiorina already has a huge personal war chest from the buyout payment she got when she was bumped out of her job at HP. This would make Boxer’s defense of her seat a major money campaign. Political consultants should already be salivating.
Fiorina’s candidacy may well address the question of whether someone with so little political experience that she consistently didn’t bother to vote, can be treated as a serious candidate. Think that old Robert Redford film, “The Candidate” if you are looking for clues to how it will run.
By Brooks Spector
WATCH: The video that doomeed Fiorina’s job as McCain’s economic adviser
Main photo: Carly Fiorina, former Chairman and CEO of Hewlett-Packard, speaks during the third session at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, September 3, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Segar