October 12 2015
Prue Robertson, a retiree living in New Hampshire, has never felt the urge to slap a bumper sticker on a vehicle.
"Not even 'I'm the mother of an honor student'!" she said.
But Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina has changed all that. A simple red "Carly" sticker now adorns the tailgate of Robertson's 1967 gunmetal grey Chevrolet pick-up truck. She was given the sticker after attending a breakfast event for Fiorina in New Hampshire last month, at which Robertson said she was "totally won over" by the candidate.
"There's a graciousness to her, a warmth," she remarked.
Robertson is one of a growing number of women supporting Fiorina, whose recent surge in popularity could prove to be a powerful retort to those who accuse the GOP of waging a war on women. At the very least, her candidacy could prove to attract more women to the party, which Republicans have historically struggled to do.
A straw poll at the National Federation for Republican Women last month showed that Republican women overwhelmingly favor Fiorina as their top choice, with 27 percent of the respondents saying that they would vote for her.
Fiorina's female support also extends to younger women.
"I think she's interesting and I like seeing her get taken more seriously," said Maddie Csere, a 22-year-old college student at the George Washington University and member of the College Republicans. "I mean, if you're a female Republican, you're just so refreshed that a woman is actually doing well in the polls."
And women aren't her only fans. In recent weeks Fiorina has emerged as a serious contender in the Republican primary race nationally, following two notable debate performances, surging poll numbers, and increasing attention from major Republican donors. The billionaire Koch brothers, who have said that they will spend about a billion dollars on the 2016 campaign, are reportedly looking into backing Fiorina.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is losing popularity among women, a group that she has counted on for broad support in the past.
According to a Washington Post poll last month, only 42 percent of Democratic female voters say that they would cast a ballot for Clinton — a near 30-point decrease from the 71 percent she received just two months before.
While it is not clear whether Clinton's former female supporters are defecting to Fiorina's camp, Clinton's loss of support among women has created an opening that Fiorina is eager to fill. She is beating Clinton in Iowa by 14 points and in New Hampshire by eight points, according to a new poll by the Wall Street Journal/NBC.
The Republican Party has not been successful at appealing to women voters, who are more likely to vote Democratic. In the 2012 general election, Obama won over female voters with the largest gender gap ever recorded in a presidential election. In order to win in 2016, Republicans need to close that gap. Having Fiorina on the Republican ticket, either as the presidential or vice presidential nominee, is one way to do that, said Bill Whelan, a Republican strategist and pollster at the Hoover Institute.
"Republicans are going to have to make a political calculation," he said. If Fiorina continues to perform well in the debates, "there will definitely be more talk of her being on the ticket."
Women make up more than half of the US population and do not vote as a single monolithic bloc. But men and women do vote differently on certain issues like paid maternity leave and equal pay, noted Sabrina Schaeffer, the executive director of the Independent Women's Forum, a conservative political non-profit.
"That is something progressives intuitively get, whereas conservatives don't," she said. Fiorina clearly does get it, Schaeffer added, and is using her position as the sole female Republican candidate to set herself apart on a stage crowded with men.
Still, Fiorina resists making her gender the defining characteristic of her campaign.
"Carly has never been a token in her life," Anna Epstein, a Fiorina campaign spokesperson, said.
Fiorina made this point clear in the second Republican debate last month, when each of the Republican candidates were asked to choose a woman they would put on the $10 bill.
"I think, honestly, it's a gesture," Fiorina responded. "I don't think it helps to change our history. We ought to recognize that women are not a special interest group."
Fiorina's support among women might be surprising, considering she has been one of the most outspoken candidates against abortion. Freedom of choice is a right that the majority of women support. But abortion is not an issue that determines how the majority of Americans vote.
Fiorina's record as CEO of Hewlett-Packard will likely be a more central issue to her campaign than her stance on social issues, said Whelan. When she was head of the company, she oversaw massive layoffs and revenue losses, which critics have repeatedly pointed to as a major weakness in her candidacy.
But Barbara Mait, a 58-year-old early supporter of Fiorina's from Virginia, doesn't think that her performance as a CEO would be a make-or-break issue for most voters.
"Some would say that her time at HP was not the best," said Mait. "But there are a lot of men that have run companies that have had issues too, so I don't look at that as a bad thing."
Whether Fiorina can keep up the buzz currently surrounding her campaign remains to be seen, especially since her war chest is still a fraction of her competitors. Jeb Bush and Clinton have each raised more than $120 million and $75 million dollars, respectively, according to recent reports. As of late June, Fiorina had raised less than $6 million dollars. She said that her fundraising spiked after her debate performances, but she has a lot of catching up to do.
But whether or not the Koch brothers contribute millions to her campaign, Prue Robertson says her Carly sticker isn't going anywhere.