Sunday, November 8, 2009

Carly reconsidered (I)

Carly Fiorina announced her candidacy for US Senate on Wednesday, two days after my undergraduate strategy students presented their analysis of the HP-Compaq merger. Both events have caused me to reflect on her qualifications as a CEO and a politician — and to admit that I may have been wrong about the former.

Ever since she made noises about entering politics, I’ve been seriously conflicted. On the one hand, I had a front row seat as she single-handedly worked to dismantle “The HP Way.” On the other hand, I would certainly agree with her politics more than many politicians who might run for office here.

Compared to joining HP just before the bursting of the dot-com bubble, Fiorina’s timing for her inaugural run looks to be perfect, both on the issues and on personalities.

Incumbent Barbara Boxer has a near-perfect record as judged by her “liberal quotient” compiled by the Americans for Democratic Action , crossing the ADA only once from 2003-2008 — by voting for George Bush’s trillion dollar Medicare prescription drug benefit. If last week’s elections are any indication, 2008 could mark the high water mark for the Democrat party‘s liberal wing.

Fiorina has positioned herself as an economic conservative and social moderate (particularly on abortion), perfect for reaching independent and Republican women. My wife is a big fan after reading her memoir, despite having lived through Fiorina’s fight over The HP Way. If my wife and sister-in-law are any indication, Fiorina will get the enthusiastic support of educated soccer moms (both stay-at-home and career-oriented) if she can articulate a coherent story about why the government should live within its means the way that private citizens have to do.

On the one hand, Fiorina’s reputation would be a liability running against a well-liked figure. As a CEO, Fiorina was a polarizing figure — criticized as being abrasive and imperious — even if that might be less noticeable in the US Senate, where every Senator considers him/herself one promotion away from becoming president.

On the other hand, Boxer has shown her own imperious side, whether in dealing with the US military or as a committee chair. When it comes to egos, Fiorina may have met her match challenging a politician who — as columnist Dan Walters put it — “has written two novels with a fictional version of herself as the heroine.” Meanwhile, Fiorina’s recent (thus far successful) fight against breast cancer could serve to humanize her.

In terms of managerial and economic aptitude, Fiorina is grossly overqualified. Law school graduate senators can’t manage their way out of a box, let alone successfully micromanage a $14 trillion economy. Whatever her mistakes, Fiorina credibly initiated and supervised one of the most difficult mergers in US history, and thus should be able to manage a US Senate office of 80 boot-lickers as well as understand broader issues of job creation and economic growth.

I’ll be curious to see whether Boxer underestimates her opponent. Fiorina is one of the smartest and most disciplined public speakers I’ve ever heard, while Boxer seems to generally assume that she’s preaching to the choir (perhaps because she began her career in a safe Marin County district). An open debate between the two women would play to Fiorina’s strengths.

My sense is that if the election is on economic issues, then (barring some unexpectedly rapid economic recovery) Fiorina should win easily. However, Boxer will try to make the election a referendum on Fiorina (and vice versa), and the election will go to whoever is most successful in that regard.

The other thing she’ll need is a campaign staff. California Republicans once had an impeccable brain trust that won all but 2 gubernatorial elections from 1966-1994. But the party has been unable to win statewide elections since then, the governator not withstanding. And business execs-turned-politicians have a terrible track record of cultivating and heeding the advice of seasoned campaign professionals.

Photo from Fiorina’s campaign tour taken from her campaign website.

1 comment:

Kenneth M. Kambara said...

I'm not a huge Boxer fan, but I see her as entrenched. Support for Obama is still fairly high in California at 60%, despite the economic indicators, so my take is to unseat the incumbent, Carly will have to come up with a compelling platform that speaks to suburban moderates and independents. Fundraising won't be an issue for Boxer, despite her coffers being low, as the stakes are too high for the Dems. & Obama.

The Chron is already gunning for Carly {for not voting} & I still remember how Bruce Herschensohn was sunk by the rumormill.

The rhetoric is already getting ugly and {heh} I think voters will be confused thinking that Susan Powter is running.