Fiorina Still Making Rookie Mistakes

John Wildermuth
Journalist and Political Commentator

Carly Fiorina has officially been in the Senate race for almost a month and the kindest possible take on her campaign is that she’s still got a long way to go.

Fiorina served a decades-long business apprenticeship before she took over as CEO at Hewlett-Packard, but she’s now looking to move to the top of the state’s political ladder without the benefit of any real experience in California politics.

It shows.

Last week, for example, she brushed off Irvine Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, her GOP primary opponent, by arguing at a Washington breakfast that he wouldn’t have a prayer against Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer because he’s, well, a white guy.

While Fiorina insisted that some of her best friends were white guys, she said they just can’t win against Boxer because “she knows how to beat them. She’s done it over and over and over.”

It’s true that Bruce Herschensohn (1992) and Bill Jones (2004) were of the Anglo male persuasion, but while Matt Fong may have been called many things during his 1998 battle with Boxer, “white male” wasn’t one of them.

And people who were paying attention to politics for longer than the past year or so might remember that when Boxer ran for Congress in a Bay Area district Abe Lincoln couldn’t win for the Republicans, it was her victory over San Francisco Supervisor Louise Renne in the 1982 Democratic primary that guaranteed her trip to Washington.

Now it’s true that Boxer has not been shy about playing the sex card in the past (See: Thelma and Louise, co-starring Dianne Feinstein, in 1992), so a prospective challenge by another woman could blunt those arguments. But Fiorina should be careful when she talks about Boxer’s ability to win elections, since, as a political first-timer, Fiorina has yet to show that she can beat anyone.

Rookie mistakes show up in other places, too. Earlier this month she was doing an interview on CNN and was asked about the UC system’s astounding 32 percent hike in fees and the student protests surrounding it.

“Of course it’s an outrage,” Fiorina said, and quickly used that to segue into a complaint about the IOU-fest caused by the state’s budget problems and how it shows that “California is a test case of the fact that bigger and bigger government and higher and higher taxes don’t work.”

Now that was a pretty slick maneuver to get back to her campaign theme, but that first phrase is going to stick in the craw of plenty of state legislators, Democrats and Republicans alike.

Sacramento politicians hate the idea of pricing California students out of a college education. There are plenty of UC and state college grads in the Legislature and they know just how important that low-cost education was to their own careers. And they also don’t like the flood of letters and phone calls they keep getting from students and their parents, also known as voters.

But what those state legislators really, really, really dislike is having an outside politician drive by and complain about how terrible things are without answering the obvious question: “So what would you have done differently?”

There’s nothing wrong with Fiorina feeling outrage about the fees debacle at UC or any of the state’s myriad other problems. There’s already a long, long line. But if, as an aspiring politician, she’s going to complain, she better be ready to provide some solutions, too.

John Wildermuth is a longtime writer on California politics.

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