Fiorina now stands poised to get a real look from Republican voters. It’s still unlikely she will be considered more presidential than some of the first-tier candidates. But she’s saved her cash — as has her super-PAC — and she appears to be investing in the necessary hard work of signing up volunteers and supporters one by one in the key early states.
That means that the impact of a Fiorina candidacy could be bigger than expected — just as her staffers have been predicting all along.
“It’s not timing. We did talk about timing down the road because I guess at some point that would be a different calculus,” she said. “But if you’re a super-PAC looking to support Carly, we don’t have a national primary. I’d start building what you need to in those primary states.”
And in fact, when I followed Fiorina around New Hampshire last month, there were super-PAC staffers with the title of “field organizer” on their business cards. Last fall in Iowa, when Fiorina was first making noises about a possible run for president, her aides were emphasizing their ground organizing in the early states during the 2014 midterm elections, through a nonprofit group called Unlocking Potential.
A Fiorina spokeswoman at the time told me that Unlocking Potential had 24 paid staffers on the ground in Iowa.
But fieldwork and community building at the local level — as much as the Republican Party desperately needs to do more of it to catch up to Democrats — is not enough for a lower-tier candidate like Fiorina trying to move up. A candidate has to be able to break through on sheer talent.
And Fiorina did that Thursday, giving sharp, passionate answers during the debate, then going on MSNBC’s “Hardball” and sending Chris Matthews to the corner for a time-out when he tried to talk over her.
That talent, Isgur Flores said, is what bolstered her confidence this summer that they did not need to blow cash, or have the super-PAC do so, to buy their way into the spotlight.
“For those of us who know her and have watched her for months, it’s not surprising. What we’ve said all along is that she has low name ID and we have to break through that barrier,” Isgur Flores said. “The barrier has never been whether she can stand out in a crowd.”