The annual presidential audition known as the Conservative Political Action Conference has long been a place where a candidate can go from “who?” to “oh, right, that person.”
And if all goes according to plan, “that person” at the 2015 event will be likely Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina.
The former CEO of Hewlett-Packard has a prime speaking slot, a spot on the straw poll, and a brand new super PAC promoting her potential candidacy. She’s also the chair of the American Conservative Union Foundation, the group that puts on CPAC every year.
Something of an unknown on the national political scene, Fiorina, who unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate in 2010, is using CPAC to showcase her intellect, policy chops, and know-how in hopes of jump-starting a long shot bid for the 2016 nomination. And instead of being a footnote at the end of the conference, she’s speaking on the first day between New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and conservative favorite Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, which should ensure a large audience.
This is far cry from last year’s conference when, despite being a co-chairwoman of CPAC, she spoke in a not-quite-full ballroom on the last day between Heritage Foundation chief Jim DeMint and professional trollette Ann Coulter.
Not only did Fiorina’s speech-placement get a serious upgrade, the panels she’s on are designed to show off her expertise in areas like foreign policy, which could bolster the case that she’s prepared to take on former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
Some supporters say Clinton is actually copying Fiorina from afar, pointing to their weirdly similar book covers and titles.
And then there’s the line from Clinton’s speech this week about “unlocking potential”—the name of Fiorina’s leadership PAC. Coincidence? Probably, but it’s getting Team Fiorina some free press.
Fiorina started Unlock Your Potential PAC in 2014 to help the GOP better appeal to women voters. The group spent $512,394 in Senate races last cycle. She’ll no doubt be discussing this effort on a CPAC panel called “Lies Told to You by Liberals” and “Countering the ‘War on Women’ Lie.”
The two additional panels she’s speaking on might as well be called “Why Carly Fiorina Is Better Than Hillary Clinton.” One is called “Intelligence Community: The Alphabet Soup Agencies and What They Do.” The other is “Putin’s Russia: A New Cold War?”
So what does Fiorina, who is perhaps best known politically for a series of hilariously over-the-top ads during her California Senate campaign, know about the intelligence community or Russia? Well, supporters note that she’s served on several relevant boards, including the first ever External Advisory Board for the Central Intelligence Agency, which was created in 2007 by then-director Michael Hayden.
Fiorina has been talking up her Kremlin bona fides for the last year and referenced her meeting with Vladimir Putin at a 2001 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in China in a well-received speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit last month. “Like Hillary Clinton, I too have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles around the globe,” Fiorina said in Iowa. “But unlike her, I have actually accomplished something. Mrs. Clinton, flying is not an accomplishment, it’s an activity. I have met Vladimir Putin and know that it will take more to halt his ambitions than a gimmicky red ‘Reset’ button.”
The audio of that speech, which also name-checks Benjamin Netanyahu, is the focal point of a gauzy, highly produced video released this week by Carly for America, a new super PAC founded to “lay the groundwork” for a Fiorina presidential run.
Still, whether Fiorina could survive the glare of a real presidential campaign remains to be seen. She’ll have to answer questions about her failed tenure at HP, including laying off thousands, and her mediocre Senate campaign, which sometimes devolved into mean-girl insults.
But that’s at least a week down the line. For now, it’s all about CPAC, and Fiorina’s big moment.