There has never been quite a field of Presidential candidates like this one — in either a Democratic or Republican primary — with 17 candidates vying for their party’s nomination. Last night’s showdown, the GOP Debate hosted by Fox News, even had a “happy hour” pre-debate with the seven candidates who did not make it to primetime.
Coverage coming out of the early debate was pro-Carly Fiorina; a Fox Twitter poll asked who won and Carly, the only female GOP candidate, had a landslide victory at 83 percent. Megyn Kelly gave her a shout out in the opening of the “real” debate followed by strong applause, and Politico said she shined, but then asked “will it matter?”
Carly was one of five candidates invited to speak the Koch Brothers’ exclusive summer fundraising event, and she shined again in last winter’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the biggest national conference of conservatives. On the issues, she offers herself as a clear foil to Hillary Clinton, while getting jabs in at Jeb Bush’s early blunders. She is showing that she knows how to play politics with the best of them.
But despite all her political might, Carly’s polls numbers continue to lag: a 1 percent club that she doesn’t want to be in. Why isn’t’ Carly trending better with GOP voters?
You could argue she doesn’t have the political experience (though having challenged a longtime incumbent for her U.S. Senate seat is a pretty bold move). But the same outsider status is viewed as a plus for “nonpolitician” Dr. Ben Carson.
Her career at HP is worth debating, but she was willing to take risks, challenge a stale culture and shake things up. We’ve seen private sector male leaders — think Michael Bloomberg — sell this same set of qualifications as a plus; and the Donald’s sordid financial past and personal bankruptcies haven’t (yet) disqualified him.
I suspect the reason Carly isn’t polling better is because there aren’t enough Carlys. I’ve been working on women’s representation in politics for over a decade and not much has changed. When there’s only one woman in the field, she always has to be man enough for the job — twice as good, and twice as tough.
When two women are in the field, they are immediately pitted against each other (lazy reporters call it a catfight). But when we get to a place where there are three and four and five women on the stage, we have to start looking at their agendas. Not their gender.
Get me more Carlys (and more Megyn Kellys for that matter) — bold women, confident in their values, willing to listen and challenge perspectives. Then Carly won’t have to prove she is man enough for the job. She’ll just be the qualified women she is.
Follow Erin Vilardi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/erinvilardi