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Her Name's Carly Fiorina. And By The Way, She's Running For President

Republican Presidential candidate Carly Fiorina is campaigning this week in New Hampshire. By some measures, the former Hewlett Packard CEO is doing very well compared to her primary opponents. But when it comes to pounding the pavement, she faces one basic challenge: introducing herself to voters.

At a packed Geno’s Chowder Shop in Portsmouth Tuesday morning, former executive councilor Ruth Griffin seemed to speak for many when asked the candidate “are you presidential? I want to know.”  

Fiorina – who has never held elected office – worked the room with ease.

In a speech, she decried the quote “professional political class,” and criticized both the Obama and Bush Administrations on things like border control, and Iran.

But during a recent tour of downtown Portsmouth, Fiorina’s challenge was just getting recognized.

Unfamiliar Face

Jake Ostrowski was sitting outside as Fiorina’s posse made its way into Popovers on the Square, a cafe in downtown Portsmouth. He says he started Googling when he saw the hubbub, but didn’t know who Carly Fiorina was until then.

Credit Emily Corwin
Fiorina shops for t-shirts with her N.H. campaign state director, Lauren Carney

While chatting with a clerk and buying t-shirts next door, Fiorina introduced herself, but did not mention she’s running for president.

Fiorina admits her celebrity competitors like Chris Christie and Hillary Clinton have certain advantages she lacks. “We started this campaign literally from a standing start on May 4,” she says. “We didn’t have a full campaign team, we didn’t have an email list, we didn’t have donors.”

Credit Emily Corwin / NHPR
Fiorina took time introducing herself to many of the employees on the floor at Laars Heating Systems in Rochester on Tuesday.

So, Fiorina is working overtime. She has among the most packed NH campaign schedules of any candidate, and her list of endorsements in this state is long.  It includes Republican state Senators Sharon Carson and Jeannie Forrester, the Grafton County Sheriff, the Hillsborough County Commissioner, and almost twenty state representatives including former Speaker of the new Hampshire House, Gene Chandler.

Fiorina’s brand of conservatism centers on the belief that government is too big.

“We have come to a place now realistically where the potential of this nation is being crushed by the weight and the ineptitude and the complexity and the power of the federal government of this nation,” she told her audience in Portsmouth.

Programs for the poor, Fiorina says, are keeping people down. However, the country should invest in mental health and substance abuse programs.  The U.S military should be the most powerful in the world. Gay marriage should be up to individual states, and the President should use cell phone technology like the one used on American Idol to get input from the public.

Corporate Comfort Zone

Credit Emily Corwin / NHPR
Fiorina talking shop with Director of Operations Mark Farrell while a videographer for her PAC, Carly for America, looks on.

While she’s on the campaign trail, Fiorina – who was CEO of HP and an executive at AT&T - leans hard on her corporate background.

During a stop at Laars Systems in Rochester, which manufactures boilers, the candidate seemed more comfortable talking business than politics. She grilled Director of Operations, Mark Farrell on his relationships with contractors and wholesalers before apologizing “sorry! I do a lot of distribution channel stuff, I find it interesting, you know?”

And that leaves the same question 90 year old Ruth Griffin wondered back at Geno’s Chowder Shop. Can someone who has never held elected office – but who has run a Fortune 500 company – be presidential?    

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