Will Fiorina’s primary strategy backfire in California’s general election?

Carly Fiorina talks to supporters after winning the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate race.
Carly Fiorina talks to supporters after winning the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate race.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

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Senate candidate Carly Fiorina beat out the more moderate Tom Campbell for the Republican Party’s nomination to the U.S. Senate. KPCC’s Julie Small looks at whether Fiorina’s more conservative social views will backfire in the general election in November.

On the campaign trail, Carly Fiorina told Republican voters she’s got what it takes to challenge the Democratic Party’s incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer in the November election.

“You know what I say,” Fiorina told delegates at the Republican convention, “bring ‘em on!”

Those voters opted for Fiorina, not the more moderate candidate Tom Campbell, to be Boxer’s challenger.

But Tim Hodson with the Center for California Studies at Sacramento State says now that Fiorina’s won the primary, some of what she said before the primary will come back to haunt her in the general election – like her support for a person’s right to bear arms, even if that person is on the federal terrorism “no-fly” list.

“The average California voter is not a flaming liberal,” Hodson said “but is moderate-to-liberal enough to question why someone on the 'no-fly' list should not be allowed to fly but allowed to buy as many weapons as they want.”

Carly Fiorina opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest and when a mother’s life is endangered. She opposes gay marriage but supports domestic partnerships. In the final days before the primary, her opponent Tom Campbell tried to convince Republicans those views would alienate voters a Republican candidate needs to win in California.

“Why do moderate Democrats or economically responsible independents and Democrats hesitate to vote for a Republican?” Campbell asked. “The answer is almost always the social issues.”

Eight years ago, Republicans nominated the conservative businessman Bill Simon for governor, rejecting the more moderate Richard Riordan. Simon lost to incumbent Democrat Gray Davis that November. Sacramento State’s Tim Hodson thinks the California Republican party’s nomination of Fiorina fits a pattern.

“Again and again, the Republican Party has nominated candidates who are not viable in a general election and have defeated candidates in the primaries that would be,” Hodson said.

But USC’s political analyst Jonathan Wilcox says Fiorina’s not one of those.

“I don’t think this is an ideological statement or some kind of tantrum on the part of the Republican Party at all,” Wilcox asserted.

Wilcox, a former speechwriter for Republican Governor Pete Wilson, says California Republicans nominated Fiorina because she ran the most formidable campaign.

“She’s the only one of the three candidates for the Republican nomination that ran a full-fledged campaign: fully funded, fully 'media-ed' and therefore able to both raise and spend an appropriate amount."

Fiorina spent $6.7 million on her primary campaign – and loaned her campaign $5.5 million of her own money.

Wilcox says Republicans also believe the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard can appeal to more voters in a year when worries about the economy loom larger than any single social issue.