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Can Fiorina seize the moment?

Nail Stanage

Carly Fiorina stole the show at the Republican debate on Wednesday evening — but that doesn’t guarantee she will be catapulted toward the top of the polls, political insiders say.

“[Sen.] Marco Rubio [R-Fla.] did really well at the first debate and it moved the dial a little, but didn’t put him in the top tier,” said Susan MacManus, a professor of government at the University of South Florida. “My guess is [Fiorina] will probably gain more than anybody else from the debate, but by how much?”

In Fiorina’s orbit, however, the excitement is tangible. Keith Appell, a senior adviser to the super-PAC CARLY for America, told The Hill that the debate “resets the race.”

Appell also said the businesswoman’s effort, which he asserted had been picking up steam, had received an extra infusion of energy in the wake of the candidate’s debate performance.

Highlights for Fiorina included an emotional condemnation of Planned Parenthood, at least one exchange in which she was widely seen asgetting the better of frontrunner Donald Trump and a strikingly personal reference to a stepdaughter whom she lost to drug addiction.

“We’ve got a lot of calls today and we’re reaching out to a lot of people today,” said Appell. “You’re going to see more money coming in, more people joining the team in these early states. Our strategy of playing for the long-haul appears to be working, and in some cases it might be working a little better than even we hoped.”

Unaligned Republicans don’t want to deny Fiorina her moment in the sun or underplay her debate performance. As the only woman in the field, her mere presence in a central role helps rebut liberal charges that the GOP lacks diversity.

But some of those GOP observers also seem skeptical that Fiorina is about to be transformed into a leading contender.

“When you are a candidate who is having one of these moments when everyone is talking about you in a positive way, you’d better use it to build out your campaign team so you can withstand the bad days as well as celebrate the good days,” said Craig Robinson, a former political director of the Republican Party of Iowa.

Robinson emphasized that he believed Fiorina had “capitalized on every opportunity she was given” in the debate, but he also noted that her political career includes only one race — a heavy loss in her effort to oust Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer from her seat representing California in 2010 — and that her GOP rivals this time have formidable resources.

“I think in Iowa she’s really battling the Jeb Bushes and the Marco Rubios of the world, and that is a tough battle,” Robinson said. “She is going to have to out-work and out-organize those candidates, because when it comes to the air-war, you are competing with a guy [Bush] who has a $100 million super-PAC. Rubio is well-funded, too. They are going to have TV ads and big staffs in places like Iowa, and she has got to compete with that.”

Fiorina backers such as Appell acknowledge the importance of money, but they note that Bush’s resources have not delivered any great dividend for him as yet. In Iowa, for instance, Bush commands 5 percent support in the RealClearPolitics (RCP) average, tying for fourth place, while Fiorina, in sixth, is only one-third of a percentage point behind.

No major polls have come out since the Simi Valley debate. But amid the rave reviews for Fiorina, it’s worth noting how modest her overall standing was beforehand. Whereas Bush is third in the RCP national average, Fiorina is tied for seventh, with 3.3 percent support. Her strongest of the early-voting states, according to the RCP average, is New Hampshire, where she lies fourth, behind Trump, former neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

That might change if she can transfer the energy seen on the debate stage to on-the-ground organizing in the early states. Appell insisted that this was already going well and that the super-PAC was “focused for the most part on building the ground game. That’s our primary focus.”

A longtime Republican activist in New Hampshire, unaligned so far in this cycle, noted admiringly that the former CEO “is here frequently. While she is here, she is doing the right kind of events, she is connecting with people. She is picking up endorsements. They are gaining some momentum.”

But the same person also cautioned that, to an extent unusual among the candidates, Fiorina was very dependent upon her super-PAC. The activist claimed that “she has more or less completely outsourced her campaign” to the outside group, which cannot coordinate with the official effort.

Robinson, in Iowa, made a different, but related, observation, insisting that Fiorina needed to do more of her own events, in part because of the opportunity such occasions provide to identify and organize supporters.

“She needs to do her own campaign events, rather than being the featured guest at someone else’s event,” he said. “The campaign needs to get people out and sign them up.”

“When it’s your moment in the race, you have to capitalize on it,” he added.

Source: The Hill

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