Carly Fiorina. Note that name. Write it down. Visit her website.
Thursday night, she participated in a second-tier primary debate inside the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. According to the event’s sponsor, Fox News, as well as the Weekly Standard and CatholicVote, she stole the show.
But, going into the debate, Fiorina was known to only a small margin of voters. In fact, she was the second least familiar candidate on the field. Thursday morning, Gallup reported that her familiarity was sinking at 36% among 3,147 Republican and Republican-leaning adults from all fifty states and the District of Columbia.
In politics, name recognition is currency. And, Thursday’s debate offered her an opportunity to exponentially grow her share of it.
Ahead of the event, Rasmussen Reports polled 1,000 likely voters between July 28 and 29, finding that 90% of likely Republican voters said they would probably watch at least some of the GOP candidate debates and that 64% said it was very likely. When all was over and the candidates had cleared the stage, Nielsen reported that six million viewers had tuned in to watch the first Republican primary debate.
Viewers were treated to a stellar performance from Fiorina, the only female republican candidate for president.
Across the sixty minute debate, she was more than presidential. Fiorina did not dominate. She led. As she transcended the negativity of politics and appealed to a better America, she invited serious dialogue about the challenges and problems confronting the nation.
After the debate, Google reported that her name generated more internet searches in all but two states of the union than any other term. 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.
Over the weekend, her campaign managers acted swiftly to capitalize on her success, expanding her fundraising efforts and boosting her profile on the new social media platforms and network television. Friday, she received a standing ovation at a RedState event held in Atlanta, Georgia. By Sunday morning, she had emerged from a crowded pool of candidates, competing right alongside Donald Trump for the media’s attention on Sunday morning talk shows like CNN’s State of the Union and CBS’ Face the Nation.
Looking back over her performance Thursday night, one moment stands out from all the rest for me. None of the major commentators mentioned it Friday morning. It was largely forgotten. Perhaps in the grand scheme of things, it was inconsequential. But, I caught it.
Unlike the primetime debate that came off feeling more like a wrestling match than the dignified and principled discussion American voters want at this hour, the earlier round was a focused and sustained 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, Carly didn’t. About midway through the program, Fiorina continued answering one question long after her bell rang. The moderators – Fox’s Bill Hemmer and Martha MacCallum – had to interject to ask her to stop speaking.
She was talking about how we defeat and defund Planned Parenthood. I don’t know about anyone else, but I wanted to hear more from her – I wanted her to keep talking.
When you want a politician to keep talking, you know you’ve got a good one.
As she spoke, I noted the tender wounded-ness in her eyes. Here was a woman who was never blessed with children of her own, who battled breast cancer, and who lost a step-child to drugs. Her words bore the weight of her conviction.
She knows that families are not planned. They are fragile gifts in the wide ocean of God’s love and mercy. While she advocates non-marital civil union benefits for gay couples, a position Pope Francis reportedly endorsed, she fearlessly affirms that “That is very different than the Supreme Court telling us what marriage is. Marriage is an institution grounded in spirituality between a man and woman that can bring forth life.” And, that is a principle by which she is prepared to govern. As she told the Western Conservative Summit in late June, “Principles are most important when they are most difficult to uphold.”
All that contrasts dramatically with Hillary Clinton.
The same week that the Center for Medical Progress released its fifth – and most gruesome – video, Hillary released an online ad applauding the work of Margaret Sanger’s Planned Parenthood. With a derisive tone, she pledged her support of it.
You see, for Hillary, the discussion about Planned Parenthood is already over. The matter was decided before the evidence was reviewed. Abortion and contraception come together as a packaged deal. She tells us they’re good for women, needed by women, and wanted by women. And, “we’re not going back.” A woman’s fate, future, and freedom depend upon her right to destroy life, not her potential for cultivating it.
But, for Carly, the national discussion about our common potential to build a promising future is just beginning; and, so is her campaign.
While it is early in the 2016 race to the White House and many questions remain unanswered about the candidates and their politics, one thing is clear for now. Carly Fiorina’s star is rising. Watch it shine.