Hillary Clinton’s newly discovered ‘top secret’ emails might not be the only game changer in the 2016 race for the White House. Following Thursday’s primary debates in Cleveland, early polling results show Carly Fiorina surging in New Hampshire. She is preparing to move into the top tier of candidates and her campaign managers are planning to expand fundraising efforts. A week ago, all that would have seemed highly improbable.
With a 36 percent familiarity rating among Republican and Republican-leaning adults, Fiorina was the second least familiar candidate on the field. In politics, name recognition is currency; and, Fiorina was ready to declare bankruptcy. Thursday’s debate offered her one last opportunity to access a vital resource.
Ahead of the event, Rasmussen reported that 90 percent of likely Republican voters said they’d probably watch at least some of the debates and that 64 percent said it was very likely. Once candidates cleared the stage, Nielsen reported six million viewers had tuned in to watch Fiorina deliver a stellar performance. Now, pundits suspect she’ll participate in the main debate at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley on September 16.
Across the sixty minute forum, Fiorina proved confidently presidential. She didn’t dominate. Fiorina led. By transcending the negativity of politics and appealing to a better America, she invited a serious dialogue about problems confronting the nation. By focusing on substance, she set herself apart from Trump who later tweeted Fiorina gave him a “massive headache.”
Afterwards, Google reported her name had generated more internet searches in all but two states of the union – Alaska and Louisiana – than any other candidate. Stepping off stage, she tackled tough questions on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews. When she returned to the post-debate recovery room, journalists dropped interviews with other candidates in order to race after Fiorina for comment. Her performance didn’t just spark interest. It created a sensation.
Friday morning, the Wall Street Journal said there were “Fireworks at the Republican Debate.” Fiorina lit the fuse, according to the New York Times, which headlined that the “Undercard Verdict” was “Carly Fiorina TKO.” Business Insider said the ruling was universal: “Everyone’s Saying Carly Fiorina won the early Republican debate.” And, both Politico and the Washington Examiner headlined “Carly Fiorina Shines.” Even MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski called her “aspirational.” Some labeled her Thatcher-esque. That afternoon, she received a hero’s welcome and three standing ovations at a RedState Gathering in Atlanta, Georgia.
By Sunday morning, Fiorina had emerged from a crowded pool of candidates to compete for airtime with Trump on This Week, Face the Nation, State of the Union, and Fox News Sunday. While her opponent phoned in his talking points, Fiorina appeared in person fielding live questions.
Following the almost-Full Ginsburg, NBC News/SurveyMonkey revealed Fiorina had fought her way from the bottom of the heap into fourth place to stand with Florida Senator Marco Rubio in a statistical dead heat. She had become the queen of the hill, leading Trump by a margin of four percent as the winner of both debates.
Fiorina didn’t just hold her own against her opposition. She re-structured the playing field. If she maintains her momentum, she’ll prove to be Trump’s most formidable opponent yet.
Surveying her performance last Thursday, one moment stands out. Unlike the primetime debate that felt more like a barroom brawl than a principled discussion worthy of American voters, the earlier round was a substantive dialogue about leading the nation forward after the age of Obama. For the most part, the candidates stayed in their lanes and kept to their time limits.
At one point, Fiorina didn’t. Speaking about defunding Planned Parenthood, she continued long after her bell rang and despite the protestations of the moderators. Social conservatives wanted to hear more.
When you want a candidate to keep talking, you know you’ve got a good one.
Her words bore the weight of her conviction. She spoke as a woman who was never blessed with children of her own, who survived breast cancer, and who lost a step-child to drugs. Her pro-life politics aren’t contrived. They’re battle-tested. She knows human life isn’t a throwaway commodity to be bought and sold for corporate profit or political advantage, but a fragile gift commanding the respect of the statesmanlike.
That contrasts dramatically with Trump’s disregard for women and Hillary’s devaluation of human life.
When the Center for Medical Progress released its fifth – and most gruesome – video, Hillary ran an ad applauding the work of Planned Parenthood. With a derisive tone, she pledged support of the organization without fully considering damaging evidence against it. She says abortion and contraception are a packaged deal wanted by women, needed by women, and good for women; and, “we’re not going back.” A woman’s fate and future depend upon her right to destroy life, not her potential for cultivating it.
Fiorina wants to invite a serious discussion about our common potential for building a promising future, not shut it down.
Although the 2016 race is just getting underway, one thing is clear. Fiorina’s star is rising. Conservatives who respect women and cherish human life are eager to see it shine.