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Eye On Candidates
September 18, 2015

Next Steps for Fiorina

The day after the day after the second Republican debate, attention has focused on how businesswoman Carly Fiorina is benefiting from the perception that she won the debate, and what she needs to do at this point to make the most of the moment. Politico reports on the immediate aftermath:

Carly Fiorina's victory lap

Phones were ringing off the hook at CARLY for America, the super PAC that's essentially running Fiorina's ground game. Keith Appell, a senior adviser to the super PAC, said it was too early to know anything certain but all signs pointed to a post-debate surge in fundraising.

In the field, there were similar signs that Fiorina was on the rise. She is already slated for an Iowa swing next week that's set to include stops in Iowa City, Davenport, and Dubuque, and in the wake of the second debate, the campaign is fielding a slew of additional invitations, including from a college and a county party….

"Do I anticipate that things will get significantly better? Yeah, I do," said Appell, addressing the question of fundraising. "They already have. The more she breaks through in these debates, the more that's going to feed our strategy of going for the long haul. There are a lot of people in this race, nobody wants to get out, we understand that, but we think she was the clear winner last night. The more people see of her, the more she gets support on the ground, in the bank and everywhere else."

The Washington Post suggests Fiorina has two key challenges ahead, building a campaign infrastructure capable of competing in the early states and preparing for attacks on her record:

Carly Fiorina won the debate, but she is already facing meaningful logistical challenges and a lot more scrutiny.

She has no real organization in the early states. “Unlike campaigns with larger staffs, Fiorina’s does not yet appear to have the capacity to stage multiple events in a single day,” Karen Tumulty and Jenna Johnson write on the front page of today’s Washington Post. “A typical appearance on the stump features Fiorina and a microphone. She sometimes lacks a second one for those in the audience to use when they ask her questions.”

Her corporate record is getting a second look. During the debate and in the day since, there was a huge spike in Google searches for information related to why she was fired as CEO of Hewlett-Packard. A blistering 2010 ad that Barbara Boxer ran against Fiorina in their 2010 Senate race made the rounds yesterday. It features a clip of Carly noting she was behind “massive layoffs” and talking about sending jobs overseas as, a narrator notes, she tripled her own salary.

Bloomberg Politics picks up the question of what Fiorina needs to do from here:

To date, Fiorina has presided over a small campaign that has relied on her ability to personally connect with voters and reporters, spouting statistics confidently and launching zingers at Hillary Clinton, to build momentum. Now she'll face the challenges of a first-tier candidate: raising enough money to sustain her in the coming ad wars, attracting top staff, and building infrastructure in key states, all while fending off escalating attacks and trying to live up to now lofty expectations….

"You’ve got to bring on some talent," said Ken Khachigian, a Nixon and Reagan White House alum who is an informal adviser to Fiorina. "Typically you pick up some staff from other campaigns as you move along."

Fiorina has strong staffing at an affiliated super-PAC, which has performed certain key activities at arm's length, including event staffing and the securing of endorsements. In the coming weeks, she'll need staff close to her, though, to navigate stepped up scrutiny, Khachigian said. (Super-PACs can't legally coordinate with campaigns.)

The same holds true for cultivating donors: For now, Fiorina, whose campaign only raised $1.7 million in the second quarter, may need to go to other candidates' big donors who have already pledged money elsewhere in the large Republican field, which now numbers 16 contenders….

There is some indication that donors may be receptive to the message: Both the super-PAC, known as CARLY for America, and the campaign say fundraising has picked up since the last filing, particularly since Fiorina's highly praised showing at Fox News's Aug. 6 debates, but they won't say by how much.

Ramping up fundraising and adding staff shouldn’t be too difficult for Fiorina, assuming she gets the sort of bump in support many expect from her debate performance. The real challenge is likely to be defending her record against attacks, the same as other candidates who have held office or offered their views on a wide range of issues. Fortunately for Fiorina, the very skills that allowed her to shine on Wednesday – message discipline, a polished speaking style, commitment to her beliefs, and a strong grasp of details – are likely to benefit her with this next challenge as well.