Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sorry, Carly…

…only the best-financed women get to be called “Senator” instead of “Ma’am.”

In a day when the GOP tide swept across the Midwest but failed to reach the Pacific time zone, the former HP CEO appears to have failed in her efforts to dislodge her better financed rival. (Fiorina had noticeably fewer TV ads than her opponent or either gubernatorial candidate.) Longtime incumbent Barbara Boxer won despite (as one otherwise sympathetic reporter put it) having “lower approval ratings than 49ers quarterback Alex Smith.”

What really struck me, however, was an article Monday in the Merc, whose editorials strongly backed Boxer for decades. The front page story offered a surprisingly sympathetic report of a Fiorina unrecognizable in the Boxer attack ads — or even her own:

Several voters who came to see Fiorina in person on the campaign trail last week said they were struck by how different the candidate is in person from how she's depicted on TV. Fiorina warmly recalled her early life, including her amazement at seeing oranges on trees when she moved to California as a girl and her early stumbles finding a career path. With the ease and command of a talk-show host, she went on to describe some of the personal triumphs that eventually brought her to the highest rungs of corporate America.

"She's much more genuine in person than she is on TV," said Raquel Unger, a real estate agent who arrived at a campaign stop in Orange County undecided on the Senate race but left counting herself a Fiorina supporter.

"She wasn't like she's shown on TV -- all the stuff about firing people and sending jobs out of the country," Republican voter Ethel Lover said after a different Fiorina event.
Warm? Genuine? These are not terms I would have used for Fiorina when I moved to Silicon Valley eight year years ago, and had yet to forgive her for destroying the “HP Way” en route to saving the company. But Fiorina demonstrated good humor and even humility in her remarks Tuesday night.

Who knows if Fiorina could have won with a more human strategy? Even in a blue state, Boxer has always been the most vulnerable statewide officeholder (next to Gray Davis), far more so than the widely popular (onetime centrist) Dianne Feinstein. But it’s still a very blue state, as all but one statewide office went to the Democrats Tuesday. And — like all political rookies — we don’t know whether if elected Fiornia would have been effective (like a Bill Frist) or a fiasco (like the Governator.)

With her re-election, Boxer gets to extend her tenure as senator from 18 to 24 years. Sen. Boxer has a few contradictions, such as blasting Fiorina for sending HP jobs offshore while running a campaign event at Cisco, which like HP has also been growing its jobs overseas (something even her hometown paper noticed.) Like most successful politicians, she has successfully managed contradictions before.

A year ago, Boxer famously noted that it’s hard to become a Senator. As AmEx likes to say, Membership Has Its Privileges(™). A six year re-election cycle provides senators a luxury no other elected official in this country enjoys.

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