Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Republican candidate for U.S. Senate and former head of Hewlett-Packard Carly Fiorina greets supporters after her speech to residents of Laguna Woods Village retirement community on October 28, 2010 in Laguna Woods, California.
Former Hewlett-Packard chief Carly Fiorina hopes for a comeback victory against incumbent U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer Tuesday. She trails in the polls, but says she believes she still has a chance of catching the anti-incumbent wave sweeping the country.
As far back as she can remember, Fiorina says she was a conservative. She recalls dinnertime talks with her father, a Stanford law professor and powerful judge.
“My father was a Democrat until Franklin Roosevelt," Fiorina said. "Then he became a Republican as he saw the New Deal and massive government intervention fail.”
Roosevelt’s New Deal sparked a political backlash that fueled Republican victories in the 1938 midterm elections. Fiorina wants to benefit from a similar reaction to President Obama’s stimulus and health care programs – both of which she opposes.
But the first-time Republican candidate is struggling to overcome doubts about her record as head of Hewlett-Packard. Mike Angles was an IT project manager when she took over from the company’s founders 11 years ago, and was initially impressed by Fiorina.
“Both lacked the marketing pizzazz that Hewlett-Packard needed. Carly came in and she was like a breath of fresh air.”
Fiorina soon laid off Angles and administrative assistant Susan Walsh.
“She sold us a lot on the globalization and it was a good thing for us," Walsh said. "Shortly after that she did this workforce reduction program – 6,000 – and I was one of them and it was like whoa! That’s not what you were telling us.”
Fiorina eliminated or transferred to China and India more than 30,000 jobs, by some accounts, and ended the company’s time-honored culture of caring for its employees “the HP way.”
Through it all, she maintained a multi-million dollar salary. During a recent debate, Fiorina didn’t address her salary, but did talk about the layoffs.
“When you lead a business – whether it’s a nine-person business or 150,000 people – you sometimes need to make the agonizing choice to lose some jobs to save more.”
Business analysts are split over Fiorina’s six-year record at HP, said Tim Ghriskey of Solaris Asset Management.
"It’s one end to the other."
Some say that she was unqualified, and that her decision to acquire Compaq was disastrous. HP’s board ended up firing Fiorina as the company’s stock price fell.
But Ghriskey says that as the dot-com bust brought other companies down, she turned HP around by getting rid of bureaucracy.
“She laid the groundwork for the future of this company and the company that actually Hewlett has become, and I think history will prove that out," Ghriskey said.
Fiorina’s maintained a conservative course during her Senate campaign. She supports Arizona's immigration law and opposes providing a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
She also backs more offshore oil drilling and nuclear power, and supports the ballot measure that would place the state’s historic greenhouse gas regulations on hold. Fiorina argues that the regulations would hurt jobs, and she doesn’t think any one state – or nation – should do much about climate change until other countries go along.
“Unless we can engage China in a serious way, we're kidding ourselves about our impact on global warming.”
Most disturbing to environmentalists: Fiorina said she is willing to question the science that shows humans are contributing to global warming and climate change.
Fiorina also promotes a socially conservative agenda, including opposition to legal abortion.
“I’m not sure that Fiorina or her campaign quite understands how toxic some of these social issues are in this state," political analyst Tony Quinn said. "This is a very libertarian state.”
But Fiorina says she’s not running on social issues. A Tea Party favorite, she tells voters she wants to stimulate private enterprise by cutting taxes and regulations.
“This is the 21st century. Any job can go anywhere," Fiorina said in a debate with Boxer. "And what worries me deeply is the jobs we lose now may not come back. And so we have to fight for every job."
Its been a hard sell for a woman who laid off so many people.
But Fiorina says this is a fight she’s ready to take on.