It could be that Carly Fiorina has the right combination of smarts and business acumen for the Republican ticket, and for business owners too.
The former Hewlett-Packard chief executive announced her presidential bid on Monday.
For those seeking an alternative to Beltway insiders, Fiorina may also be a welcome change from Tea Party ideologues and junior senators who have already declared, policy experts say. They add Fiorina is likely to draw support from the party’s center base, at the same time she would likely be a strong business advocate, and one who understands the unique needs of small businesses.
“Small business is the economic growth and innovation engine of the nation,” Fiorina told this writer in a January phone interview. “But small businesses are suffering, and fewer are starting, and more are failing in the last 40 years…and job creation among startups is the lowest level since 1980, so we have a problem.”
Fiorina served, controversially, as the chief executive of HP from 1999 to 2005, becoming the sole woman to lead a top global company at the time. There, she oversaw the merger with Compaq, which made HP one of the largest computer companies in the world. The merger, however, was the subject of a proxy battle with the Hewlett family and was followed by several years of sagging returns for the company. Fiorina, who has topped many lists of the most powerful female business executives, was eventually edged out by HP's board of directors.
In 2010, she made an unsuccessful attempt to unseat Democratic incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer as the Republican challenger. She won 42 percent of the vote to Boxer’s 52 percent. Currently she polls at about 2 percent among likely Republican voters in the primaries.
“Fiorina brings a really unique dynamic to the presidential race, because she has a different background from the other presidential candidates,” says John Hudak, a fellow in government studies at Brookings Institution, the public policy think tank in Washington, D.C. “Her background is purely business and not politics, and she has never held elected office.”
Fiorina also isn’t an ideologue, although her views are likely to hew closely to those staked out by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Hudak says. The Chamber opposes things like a national minimum wage increase, and has opposed new laws such as the Affordable Care Act. It has, however, also supported comprehensive immigration reform as a way to boost economic growth, and has lobbied to keep the Export Import Bank open. The Ex-Im Bank, which supports businesses that export through loans and other programs, has become a political football in the most recent budget negotiations. Tea Party Republicans such as Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the House Financial Service Committee, favor closing the bank.
In my conversation with Fiorina this winter, she said she favors overhauling Dodd-Frank, the banking law put into place in 2010 following the financial crisis, because it overly restricts business owners’ access to capital. She said she would also favor a comprehensive corporate tax overhaul.
“The bigger government gets, and the more complicated regulations get and the more complicated the tax code gets, and all of those things are happening now, the more difficult it becomes for small businesses,” Fiorina said. "Unless we are wiling to reform government and cut back on some of the complexity and regulations, and reform the tax code for small business, not with big business in mind, we won't get to the root of this problem."
Fiorina is expected to be the only female candidate on a Republican slate stacked with Washington insiders. She joins already-declared candidates Ted Cruz, the junior senator of Texas, Rand Paul, the junior senator from Kentucky, and Marco Rubio, the junior senator from Florida. Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, and Scott Walker, the current governor of Wisconsin, are also likely to make announcements that they are seeking the presidency this spring.
She may also face off with Hillary Clinton, who is expected to be the only female candidate on the Democratic ticket. Strategically, that will favor Fiorina, who will be able to criticize Clinton on a variety of policy stances the latter supports, without seeming sexist, political experts say.
And for women business owners like Joni Green, the co-founder of Five Stones Research of Huntsville, Alabama, and an Inc. 5000 company with 130 employees, Fiorina’s business experience is certainly an intriguing qualification.
“She has the skills needed to lead a dynamic organization,” Green says. At the same time, Green notes that her presidential pick won’t come down to gender.
“It will come down to the candidate that presents to me the best path forward for our country if they were elected,” she says, adding that would include dealing with the national debt, comprehensive immigration reform, and corporate tax reform.