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Carly Fiorina

Out of the running Last modified: February 10, 2016

Carly Fiorina is a former business executive and former candidate for U.S. Senate in California. She announced her campaign for the Republican nomination on May 4, 2015.

Fiorina’s business credentials include serving as CEO of Hewlett-Packard from 1999 until early 2005 although she was fired by the board after clashing with them over strategic decisions. Despite this, she is generally regarded as a capable executive and business leader, something she will need to demonstrate as someone who has never held elective office before. Her story as someone who rose from being a secretary at a real estate firm to corporate CEO is sure to be an asset on the campaign trail.

Fiorina’s political experience essentially started in 2008 when she was an economic adviser to GOP presidential candidate John McCain and then became one of his leading surrogates, speaking frequently on the campaign trail on his behalf. Her experience on the campaign trail helped to launch her (unsuccessful) 2010 U.S. Senate challenge against Barbara Boxer.

Fiorina’s candidacy benefits from her history as a business leader who isn’t part of the political establishment, and she herself has noted that it would be more difficult for Democrats to use the “War on Women” meme should she be the Republican nominee. Her views appear to be uniformly conservative, which will appeal to voters within the mainstream of Republican thought.

Her fundraising has generally lagged well behind those of the top contenders, but she is wealthy enough to put additional resources into her campaign if need be, although a largely self-funded effort is unlikely.

Fiorina began the race as a significant long shot, but stellar debate performances led to rising support in the polls, including a two-week period in late September and early October where she was in third place nationally. Her campaign was unable to capitalize on her newfound prominence, however, and she has since fallen back into the third tier of candidates. She remains an underdog for the Republican nomination but with an unexpectedly high finish in one of the early contests she could potentially resurrect her campaign and once again become a contender for the nomination.

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Carly Fiorina was born Cara Carleton Sneed in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 6, 1954. She is the former CEO of Hewlett Packard, serving in that role from 1999 to 2005.1 Prior to her role as CEO at Hewlett-Packard she worked for AT&T and Lucent Technologies, where she held top leadership positions.2

Fiorina earned an undergraduate degree from Stanford University in medieval history and went on to law school, but dropped out. She then earned an MBA from the University of Maryland and a Masters of Science in Business from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).3

She is married to her second husband, Frank Fiorina, and with him raised his two daughters, Lori Ann and Traci. Lori Ann passed away in 2010.4 Frank and Carly did not have any children together.5 Her first marriage was to Tom Bartlem, a Stanford classmate. That marriage ended in 1984.6 Fiorina’s parents are Madelon Montross, an artist, and Joseph Tyree Sneed III, a law school professor, dean and federal judge.7 She was raised as an Episcopalian.8

Fiorina is the first woman to be CEO of a Fortune 20 company.9 She is also the bestselling author of her memoir, Tough Choices. The book has been translated into 12 different languages.10 She is also a breast cancer survivor, receiving her diagnosis in 2009 and then a positive prognosis for the future following a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments.11

Following her departure from Hewlett-Packard, she established Carly Fiorina Enterprises – the group that manages her speaking requests and other business interests – and she serves as chairman of that organization. She is also chairman of the Fiorina Foundation, a philanthropic organization.12

In addition to serving on several corporate and nonprofit boards currently and throughout her career, Fiorina has also become politically active. In 2008, she served as chairwoman of “Victory ’08,” the Republican National Committee’s structure to support the election of its presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain of Arizona.13 In 2010, she challenged incumbent California U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer but lost the election by a 10-point margin.14 However, she won the Republican nomination for that race with over 50 percent of the vote.15

She is the chairwoman of the American Conservative Union Foundation.16

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Character dropdown arrow

Fiorina endured a very public, rocky tenure as CEO of Hewlett-Packard and was forced out by the board in 2005. Her removal was primarily a matter of disagreement over the company’s strategy and future plans,17 as well as concerns that her personality clashed with the company’s culture.18 She summed up the experience in a statement made at a commencement speech in 2005: “The worst thing I could have imagined happened. I lost my job in the most public way possible, and the press had a field day with it all over the world. And guess what? I’m still here. I am at peace and my soul is intact.”19

Despite the high-profile firing, there were never any allegations of inappropriate or unethical behavior, and Fiorina has regularly spoken about the need for high ethics in business. In 2007 Fiorina wrote: “Businesses often tolerate behavior that’s on the edge; people justify it as necessary to achieve results and take comfort that it’s not strictly illegal. Yet such actions are corrosive. Some of the most important choices I ever made were firing people who weren’t conducting themselves with integrity.”20

In 2008 at the Republican National Convention, she touted nominee McCain’s commitment to a cap-and-trade system for carbon dioxide that she predicted would create jobs.21 In a debate during her 2010 race for the U.S. Senate, however, she declined to say whether she believed in man-made global warming and whether she supported a ballot measure in California to lift greenhouse gas limits, leading some to suggest she was “fudging” the issue for political reasons.22 Shortly thereafter Fiorina did, however, come out in support of the ballot measure.23

Although Fiorina said in a 2009 interview she opposed the bank bailouts,24 she defended them during the 2008 presidential campaign as a surrogate for McCain, who had voted for the bailout.25 She also reversed course during her 2010 Senate race on an unemployment benefits extension bill, first opposing it and then endorsing it.26

She also has changed position on a key element of Obamacare, the individual mandate to purchase health insurance. In 2013 she said she favored some form of mandate for limited, catastrophic coverage.27 She has since said she no longer believes a mandate of any sort is needed.28

Although relatively new to the political scene, Fiorina does appear to hold strong conservative values and principles. She has spoken persuasively and compellingly in support of social issues, national defense and free markets, and her position as chairwoman of the American Conservative Union Foundation should be enough to satisfy any who might question her conservative bona fides.

Fiorina has described her faith as “abstract” before her bout with breast cancer, explaining in an interview that the disease, along with the death of her stepdaughter, had made her faith more personal. It also spurred her to become active in nonprofit work.29

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Leadership Skills dropdown arrow

Fiorina is generally recognized as a strong and capable business leader, having risen from the position of secretary to CEO of a major corporation on the basis of her leadership and managerial skills. Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2015 she made a keen distinction between management and leadership:

“And we need more leaders, not managers. You see managers are people who do the best they can within existing constraints and conditions. Managers are people who tinker around the edges of a problem. We need leaders who do not accept what is broken simply because it has always been that way. We need leaders who will change the order of things. Leaders who see and seize possibilities and know that the highest calling of leadership is to unlock the potential of others.”30

Fiorina’s leadership style has both fans and detractors. There is little doubt she clashed with the corporate culture of Hewlett-Packard and the board, pushing for strategies and investments she believed in but that the board did not. One write-up of her style noted, “HP was a company that needed someone who could establish a set list of goals and then begin to relentlessly work towards them. Unfortunately, this is a trait that also infuriated certain individuals when Fiorina made it a point to simply do what she felt was in the best interests of the company.”31

The same write-up also said, “Fiorina revealed over and over again that the bulk of her focus was on taking HP into new, bold directions,” and “[t]aking on the CEO position with HP in 1999 demanded someone who would have a willingness to approach the various tasks and challenges with a strong, unshakable, hands-on approach to management. Fiorina answered that demand almost from day one.”32

The raw numbers of Fiorina’s performance as CEO of HP include a doubling of revenue while the stock value was halved,33 and 30,000 employees were laid off during a period that included the bursting of the tech bubble.

HP ultimately became the global leader in computers as a result of the controversial merger with Compaq. Defending her tenure, Fiorina said in an interview, “I’ve been at Hewlett-Packard through the worst technology recession in 25 years. And yes, indeed, some tough calls were necessary. There’s nothing worse than laying someone off. On the other hand, many companies against which we competed are gone all together. And what people fail to comment on is the fact that we doubled the size of the company, we took the growth rate from 2% to 9%, we tripled the rate of innovations to 11 patents a day.”34

A former HP board member who voted for Fiorina’s removal as CEO took out an ad in The New York Times in August 2015 praising her management and leadership skills, writing, “Not only did she save the company from the dire straits it was in, she laid the foundation for HP’s future growth,” and he said it was a mistake to fire her.35

In addition to being the first, and to date only, female CEO of a Fortune 20 company,36 she has served on and/or advised several corporate, government and nonprofit boards. These include trustee to MIT (one of her alma maters), Freedom House, the Advisory Group for Transformational Diplomacy in the Department of State, the CIA’s External Advisory Board, and the New York Stock Exchange.37 She is also the chairwoman of the American Conservative Union Foundation.38

In 2008, she served as chairwoman of “Victory ’08,” the Republican National Committee’s structure to support candidate McCain, and was a frequent surrogate on behalf of the McCain campaign.39 And, in 2011, she was named as vice chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.40

She is credited with having a strong stage presence and polished speaking style, and her speeches to Republican audiences so far have generally drawn high praise.41 Her performance in the first Republican debate, where she was relegated to the “undercard” event for candidates who didn’t rank in the top ten in national polls, was considered to be excellent and propelled a surge in support for her.

One National Review article on her noted, “Fiorina is a very good talker herself: natural and unstumbling. Her usual tone is warm, though she can summon an edge. At the early-morning coffee, she speaks in a quiet and determined voice, mic-less…she talks fast and uncondescendingly. She does not put on a Mr. Rogers voice, as many politicians do. (I speak of the late Fred Rogers, the genial host of the children’s show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.) She knows how to manage applause. She does not permit it to disrupt her flow…”42 All in all she has shown herself to be an exceptional communicator on the campaign trail.

She was regarded as one of John McCain’s most effective surrogates, although she committed a major gaffe when she said he, his running mate Sarah Palin, and opponents Barack Obama and Joe Biden couldn’t run a major corporation.43 She has made countless media appearances, suggesting she will have few problems effectively communicating her campaign message. She generally did well in her debates against Boxer in 2010, with one commentator calling her performance “articulate and well-informed.”44

In terms of political skills, Fiorina’s one previous campaign was unsuccessful, in a year that was generally favorable for Republicans. She can rightly point to the difficulties of running as a conservative in solidly Democratic California as a reason for that loss, however, and she wound up with more votes cast for her in the U.S. Senate race than fellow Republican Meg Whitman in the gubernatorial election, despite Whitman’s spending nearly $160 million to Fiorina’s $21 million. 45 According to the New York Times, her loss had less to do with her campaign and more to with “her staunchly conservative, anti-abortion, pro-oil-drilling message [that] proved a hard sell in a liberal state.”46

She did, however, fairly easily beat two respected California politicians to win the Republican nomination that year.47

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Free Markets dropdown arrow

Since Fiorina has not served in public office yet, her policy positions are known mostly through public statements made, many during her 2010 election challenge to Boxer as well as statements made on the campaign trail.


She has stated she supported the extension of the Bush tax cuts as well as lowering the marginal income tax rate, eliminating the capital gains tax on small-business investment, eliminating the estate tax and opposing Internet taxes.48 In 2010, Fiorina signed the Americans for Tax Reform’s “no new taxes” pledge49 – often considered a key document for candidates to sign to demonstrate their commitment to fiscal restraint and responsibility.

While Fiorina has yet to release a detailed tax reform plan, she has said she wants to “lower every rate, close every loophole,”50 and during the third Republican debate she said she believes a new tax code should be roughly three pages long,51 and she specifically pointed to a three-page proposal by two Hoover Institution scholars in 1995 to implement a 19 percent flat tax with substantial personal and dependent deductions.52 It is not clear what, if any, adjustments Fiorina would make to such a plan.


Fiorina has proposed that all federal regulations be subject to a review that would require they be justified or eliminated, something she believes most regulations will not survive.53 She has also endorsed the REINS Act, which would require any regulation with an economic cost of $100 million or more to be approved by Congress.54

Fiorina believes in “rational regulatory policy” but feels that many regulations have “run amok.” In a 2010 debate against Boxer, Fiorina used the Endangered Species Act as an example of some of those regulations.55 She also said that to create jobs small businesses needed to be “freed from strangling regulations.”56 She opposes a federal mandate requiring employers to offer paid maternity leave.57

Fiorina harshly criticized the FCC’s net neutrality proposal, calling it “crony capitalism” and noting that it benefits large companies who are better able to navigate complex and expensive regulations.58 She also opposes increases in the minimum wage because she says they destroy jobs,59 and notes it should be a state issue because “it makes no sense to say that the min­im­um wage in New York City is the same as the min­im­um wage in Ma­son City, Iowa.”60


She has endorsed legislation known as the Employee Rights Act61 that would guarantee workers have the right to a secret ballot election in union organizing efforts, require recertification of unions once more than half of the employees covered under the original agreement have ceased to be employed, and allow employees to prohibit their private contact information from being shared with union organizers.62

California labor unions attacked Fiorina incessantly throughout her 2010 campaign,63 although there doesn’t seem to be a record of any interaction (or any conflicts) between her and unions throughout her business career.

Environment & Energy

Fiorina is a supporter of offshore drilling but believes it needs to be done in a safe way.64 She supports the investment in green technology and suggests a national energy policy that promotes the development of domestic energy sources including nuclear, solar, and wind.65 She is also an advocate for the Keystone XL pipeline project66 and an opponent of cap-and-trade policy.67

She has stated that science indicates humans are contributing to climate change but rejects the policies and solutions advocated by traditional environmental groups, saying that “[a] single nation or a single state acting alone can make no difference at all…what I resent, frankly, is when people use half the science to destroy lives and livelihoods in coal mining communities because it will not make any difference at all. When people use half the science to destroy lives and livelihoods in the Central Valley of California, an area, the richest agricultural land in the world that has been decimated and destroyed in a man-made drought because of climate change. … We can shut down everything in this country and it will make no difference because the scientists are clear. In order to really combat this we need an effort that is global in scope over many decades, costing trillions of dollars. And so I believe, as with many problems, the answer to this problem is not regulation, it is innovation.”68

Budget & Spending

In her 2010 campaign, she stated her support for abolishing earmarks in the federal budget and called for greater transparency and accountability. She also supported limiting federal salaries and benefits,69 as well as urging the federal government to adopt “zero base budgeting,” which would end the current practice of assuming the previous year’s spending should be maintained and increased.70

More recently, she has pledged that she would balance the federal budget during her first term if elected president.71

Health Care

Fiorina favors repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a system that provides more competition and choice for consumers.72 She has also advocated creating a subsidized pool that would provide coverage for high-risk individuals,73 a policy favored by most free-market health care advocates, and also supports medical malpractice reform.74

In a 2013 interview, Fiorina said she favored an individual mandate for some minimal level of catastrophic health coverage and a prohibition on insurance companies either denying coverage or raising premiums on people with pre-existing medical conditions, although she was still very critical of Obamacare.75 She has since said she no longer favors either of those policies, instead believing other proposals such as high-risk pools without a mandate are sufficient to deal with pre-existing conditions.76

One mandate she does support is a requirement that all health care providers including doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies should “publish their prices, costs, outcomes.”77

Entitlements & Welfare

During her Senate campaign, Fiorina did state she supported entitlement reform but didn’t provide specifics. She has noted that she would not want to affect current retirees or those that are close to retirement.78


She was supportive of free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia79 but announced her opposition to giving Obama the trade negotiating authority needed to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership, saying he “does not have a track record of the details matching his selling point.”80 Following completion of the agreement she said she opposed the deal, instead favoring bilateral trade deals.81


Fiorina received significant criticism for her stance on immigration policy from California labor unions during her 2010 campaign.82 She supported an Arizona law aimed at reducing illegal immigration, and said the borders need to be secured before she’ll support the ability for illegal immigrants to obtain legal status.83 She favors a legal work status, but not citizenship, for illegal immigrants currently in the country.84

In her 2010 campaign Fiorina also supported the DREAM Act,85 federal legislation that would allow children of illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship, as well as reforms in the guest worker program, citing the need of California’s economy for guest workers in the agricultural and restaurant industries.86

More recently she has said she would end “sanctuary cities,” which are municipalities that generally do not cooperate with federal authorities in enforcing immigration laws, and she also advocated for reforming the current legal immigration system.87

She does not believe “birthright citizenship” should be eliminated.88

Fiorina has said relatively little on campaign finance regulation that restricts political speech, although she has said whatever rules are in place must be neutral and not favor some voices over others.89


In her role as chairman of Victory ’08, Fiorina spoke about McCain’s opposition to agriculture subsidies.90 In 2015, she said “the government should be out of all of the tax credit and subsidies business, whether it is for sugar or oil or renewable fuels…. I think we need a period of time to sunset this all of this federal government involvement so industries can be prepared.”91

At a July 2015 event with Iowa farmers, Fiorina criticized the federal government’s response to an avian flu outbreak that harmed U.S. poultry producers. She said the funds used to compensate poultry farmers should have been handled by the state government.92

Banking & Finance

Fiorina defended the 2008 bank bailout as an adviser for McCain ,93 but later criticized it when she ran for the Senate.94 She has also criticized the Dodd-Frank regulations on the financial sector.95

Corporate Welfare

She has frequently criticized crony capitalism, citing the size and complexity of government as key element of government favoritism for some businesses over others.96 She called for phasing out all energy subsidies by 2020, including renewable energy subsidies such as the renewable fuels standard.97 She supports eliminating the Export-Import Bank.98

Fiorina said in a statement regarding energy and agriculture subsidies, “The right answer ultimately is that the government shouldn’t be in the business of subsidizing anything. Subsidies and a variety of tax credits distort the markets.”99

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International Relations

According to her online bio, Fiorina has “served on the Defense Business Board, as the chairman of the CIA’s External Advisory Board and on the Advisory Group for Transformational Diplomacy for the Department of State, all which are likely to give her more background in military, intelligence, and foreign affairs than might be expected of a business leader who has never held elective office.100

Fiorina called for military support of Ukraine in its battle with Russian-backed separatists, noting that Putin “will not be stopped unless he senses strength and purpose on the other side.”101

She also said as commander in chief she would rebuild the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet (which operates in the European/Russian theater),102 conduct military exercises in the Baltic states that could be threatened by future Russian aggression, and she would also install ballistic missile defense systems in Poland.103

She objected to the Obama administration’s decision to remove Cuba from the state sponsors of terror list, saying the communist nation didn’t deserve it and oppression had gotten worse in the country.104

Fiorina has referred to China as America’s “rising adversary,” calling on the U.S. to work with Vietnam and the Philippines to improve their surveillance capabilities as a deterrent to China and also to help Australia and Japan build their militaries.105

In response to what she has called “new Chinese aggression” in the South China Sea she has said she would order more flyovers of disputed areas, and also labeled Chinese cyberattacks on the U.S. as “acts of aggression.”106

War on Terror

She opposed establishing a timetable for the removal of troops from Afghanistan107 and supports Obama’s decision for airstrikes in Syria.108 Fiorina has been sharply critical of President Obama’s handling of foreign policy, calling his announcement of a framework for a deal with Iran a mistake because it gave the Iranians leverage.109 She also has criticized the administration’s handling of the threat from ISIS, saying it should represent an opportunity to build an alliance with other nations threatened by the terrorist organization but that it would require American leadership, something she feels Obama has failed to provide.110

She specifically said she would arm both the Kurds and the Jordanians in their fight against ISIS and would provide intelligence support to Egypt for the same purpose.111 She does not believe at the moment that the U.S. should deploy ground troops to directly fight ISIS.112

Fiorina has said the U.S. has “done enough” regarding Syrian refugees fleeing their home country, and opposes increasing the number of refugees the U.S. will accept.113

Fiorina has been sharply critical of Obama’s handling of Iran’s nuclear program, calling his announcement of a framework for a deal with Iran a mistake because it gave the Iranians leverage.114 She has pledged that as president she would demand a new deal with Iran to replace the one the Obama administration negotiated and also said she would reimpose tough sanctions on Iran.115

She does believe in a two-state solution to solve the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.116

She has advocated passage of the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, which would give companies immunity from lawsuits for sharing information with the federal government in an effort to fight cyber attacks.117

She also called for more personnel to be hired at the FBI and CIA to address terrorism, suggesting there is a “misallocation” of resources when the IRS has more employees than those two agencies.118

Military Preparedness & Budget

Fiorina believes there is opportunity to find savings within the Department of Defense but does not support cutting the Homeland Security budget.119 She opposed the Obama administration’s announcement that it may shrink the U.S. Navy’s fleet of aircraft carriers,120 and has called for the Pentagon bureaucracy to be shrunk in favor of more military capability, what she has called the “tooth to tail” ratio.121 She has criticized the budget sequestration’s effect on the defense budget, saying “Our military defense is, of course, not just one more budget item. It’s not the same as, say, the level of soy bean subsidies. This is vital to protecting the interests of our nation.”122

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American Exceptionalism dropdown arrow


She has been critical of “activist judges,” particularly in the context of the Obergefell case.123 During the 2010 campaign, Fiorina said that had she been in office, she would have supported the nomination of now Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor124 despite Fiorina’s opposition to judicial activism – a matter typically raised by Sotomayor’s critics.125

She has stated that she opposes a “litmus test” for Supreme Court nominees.126 She has pledged to appoint judges similar to her father, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Justice Joseph Sneed III, whom Fiorina describes as a “constitutionalist.”127

In response to the Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell (Obamacare tax credits), Fiorina called it “outrageous that the Supreme Court once again rewrote ObamaCare to save this deeply flawed law despite the plain text.”128 She was similarly critical of the Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges (same-sex marriage) decision, stating that she does “not agree that the Court can or should redefine marriage,” and that the “responsibility should have remained with states and voters.” She went on to call for the protection of religious liberty in the wake of the opinion.129

She supports overturning the court’s decision in Roe v. Wade “if the opportunity presented itself.”130

Fiorina is a supporter of the death penalty131 and of reforms that will redirect nonviolent drug offenders to programs instead of putting them in prison.

Free Speech & Religious Liberty

Fiorina has said relatively little on campaign finance regulation that restricts political speech, although she has said whatever rules are in place must be neutral and not favor some voices over others.132

Fiorina has said relatively little on campaign finance regulation that restricts political speech, although she has said whatever rules are in place must be neutral and not favor some voices over others.133

On religious liberty, Fiorina supported the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision allowing business owners to run their businesses in accordance with their religious views134 and also defended Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.135 Regarding the Kentucky county clerk who stopped issuing marriage licenses in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, she said government employees have “a different role”136 and said it was inappropriate for the clerk to withhold licenses.137


Her only apparent statements relating to federalism are her comments related to gay marriage and her call for the courts not to short-circuit the conversations that are going on at the community and church level.138 She also exhibits pro-local viewpoints in her position on education and her opposition to Common Core, and she has noted that the Constitution does not authorize the federal government to set up retirement plans or enact a minimum wage.139


Fiorina has called for more accountability, choice and local control in education and says that a larger [federal] education system does not achieve success in education.140 She opposes Common Core141 but praised the No Child Left Behind Act although she also noted it had failed to help many students.142

Fiorina has said the federal government should get out of the college loan business and called for reforming the accreditation process for colleges to open up competition from both for-profit schools as well as “massive online open courses,” essentially college courses offered online to large numbers of students.143

Social Issues

During her 2010 campaign against California Sen. Barbara Boxer, Fiorina said she opposed the 1994 assault weapon ban passed by Congress and signed by former President Bill Clinton.144 She has sharply criticized politicians who have called for tougher gun control measures following shootings at a church in Charleston, S.C.,145 and Roanoke, Va.,146 accusing them of politicizing the tragedies. In a taped message to the NRA annual convention in 2015, she noted that her husband had a concealed carry permit when they lived in California and has one in Virginia where they live now, and said that she supports the rights of gun owners because “it is our God-given right and it is our Constitutional right.”

She is pro-life and has told the story how her mother-in-law rejected medical advice to abort Fiorina’s future husband due to concerns for her health.147 Fiorina favors overturning Roe v. Wade and supports abortion only in the cases of rape, incest, or if the life of the mother is endangered. She ran as a pro-life candidate in California in 2010, something she says you don’t do “unless you really mean it,”148 and has described the Democratic position on abortion as “extreme,” summarizing it as “any abortion, any time, for any reason at any point in a woman’s pregnancy, right up until the last minute, to be paid by taxpayers.”149

Fiorina said she voted for California’s Proposition 8 referendum defining marriage as between a man and a woman,150 but she does support civil unions151 and while she was CEO of Hewlett-Packard the company offered benefits to same-sex partners.152 She said she believes states should be allowed to set their own policies on marriage.153

On religious liberty, Fiorina supported the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision allowing business owners to run their businesses in accordance with their religious views154 and also defended Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.155

Fiorina has stated it should be the parents’ choice whether to vaccinate their children, but she believes the science is clear that vaccines are safe and effective and that public schools can require children to be vaccinated in order to attend.156

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Vulnerabilities dropdown arrow

Probably Fiorina’s most evident and prominent vulnerability is the very public criticism during her time as Hewlett-Packard’s CEO in the early 2000s. This ultimately resulted in her departure from the company. However, in the years since her departure, some in financial circles have vindicated her decisions and actions while CEO.

With that departure came a significant “golden parachute” that had a cash value of $21 million plus an estimated $19 million value in stock and pension benefits.157 She has an estimated net worth of $80 million.158 In an election cycle where populist messaging will likely be common, these figures are a vulnerability for Fiorina.

Additionally, Fiorina was highly criticized for the 30,000 jobs she cut early in her term at Hewlett-Packard and was accused by Boxer of “shipping those jobs to China.”159 The criticism continued in ads stating, “While Californians lost their jobs, Fiorina tripled her salary, bought a $1 million yacht and five corporate jets.”160 During the 2010 campaign for Senate, Boxer raised $15,000 from HP employees while Fiorina only raised $7,000.161

This will likely be exacerbated by claims that Fiorina refused to fly commercial during her tenure as CEO and instead used private jets and traveled with a personal hairdresser and beauty stylist162 instead of business advisers.

During her time at Hewlett-Packard, a subsidiary sold equipment to wholesaler that in turn did business with Iran, in violation of U.S. sanctions on the country. Fiorina has denied any knowledge of the illicit activity, and points to a Securities & Exchange Commission investigation that concluded none of HP’s leadership was aware of the violation.163

Also, following her 2010 campaign, she reportedly did not pay outstanding debts to her political consultants.164 The reported total amount owed was an estimated $500,000,165 leading news outlets to label her a deadbeat candidate. In a January 2015 interview, it was reported that she’d paid the debts.166

She also ran into problems with her company, Carly Fiorina Enterprises, and her foundation, Fiorina Foundation, in the lead-up to her campaign to unseat sitting U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer. It was found that neither organization was registered with the State of California, and the foundation was not registered as a charitable organization with the Internal Revenue Service.167

Finally, Fiorina will need to address concerns that she has never held political office before. Her tenure as CEO of a major corporation will likely help to offset this concern, but the fact that she was later fired will somewhat diminish this credential.

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