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Carly Fiorina enters GOP Senate primary with opening shots against Barbara Boxer

The former Hewlett-Packard executive delayed the announcement to recover from chemotherapy. She touts her business experience, the focus of a challenge by Republican Assemblyman Chuck DeVore.

November 05, 2009|Seema Mehta

Republican businesswoman Carly Fiorina formally entered the race for U.S. Senate on Wednesday, issuing a blistering critique of Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer even as she tried to blunt her own primary challenge from the right.

Before a small gathering of supporters in a Garden Grove warehouse, Fiorina said her business acumen and real-world experience make her the only viable Republican candidate in the 2010 contest.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, November 11, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 2 inches; 98 words Type of Material: Correction
Carly Fiorina and HP stock: A Michael Hiltzik column in the Business section and a news article in Section A, both published Thursday, cited two different figures for the decline in Hewlett-Packard Co. shares during Carly Fiorina's tenure as its chief executive. The Hiltzik column said the stock fell 60%, and was based on the day of Fiorina's appointment and the last day she worked at the company. The news article cited a 49% drop, which included the day after her last work day -- when her resignation was announced -- as well as adjustments for stock dividends.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, November 12, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 60 words Type of Material: Correction
Carly Fiorina: An article in the Nov. 5 Section A about Republican businesswoman Carly Fiorina entering the race for U.S. Senate said she mocked Democratic incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer for writing three bills during her 17-year tenure. That number included only bills written by Boxer that were passed the way she wrote them and not modified during the legislative process.

She mocked Boxer for writing three pieces of legislation during her 17-year tenure and for spending the summer on a book tour instead of meeting with voters at town halls.

"What do you say that come next year, we give Barbara Boxer the chance to become a full-time novelist?" said Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive whose candidacy has been unofficial in name only for months.

"Let's work together and show our nation that Californians believe action trumps talk and problem-solving trumps partisanship," she said.

Although she aimed her fire at Boxer, Fiorina was also working against a conservative challenge from Assemblyman Chuck DeVore of Irvine.

The looming battle between Fiorina and DeVore reflects a larger ideological schism that is dividing Republicans across the nation and led to the loss of a Republican House seat in upstate New York on Tuesday.

Fiorina, 54, is making her first bid for elective office but is viewed by some in the party as having a better chance against Boxer than DeVore because she holds more moderate views than him and has vast personal wealth.

Yet Fiorina's business record may be as much of a political liability as an asset. Recruited to Hewlett-Packard from Lucent Technologies in 1999, Fiorina became the first female chief executive of a Fortune 20 company.

While there, she led the $19-billion buyout of Compaq Computer Corp. Fiorina's accomplishments were overshadowed by her high-profile battles with the company's board of directors, however, and she was eventually ousted.

During her tenure, the company's stock plunged 49% and tens of thousands of workers were laid off. But Fiorina left the company with a severance package that exceeded $21 million after nearly six years as chief executive.

Democrats, both inside the Boxer campaign and out, seized on Fiorina's business record to malign her candidacy.

"In these tough times, hard-working Californians need a senator who will fight to create jobs, not a millionaire former executive who laid off more than 28,000 Americans and shipped jobs overseas," said John Burton, chairman of the California Democratic Party.

Fiorina said Wednesday that her work laid the foundation for the company's current success.

She also took on another vulnerability: her erratic voting record.

"I'm not proud of my voting record. I will offer no excuse," she said. "I am a lifelong registered Republican but I haven't always voted and shame on me, because there are people who die around the world literally for the right to vote. And there are Californians and Americans who exercise their civic duty every election. Shame on me."

Over time, she said, she came to realize that political decisions "affect every family and every business in America. And I believe we are facing challenges now where someone of my capability and problem-solving expertise would be useful."

Fiorina's official announcement has been delayed while she recovered from nine months of treatment for breast cancer. The treatment was evident Wednesday; Fiorina's hair is just now growing in.

She alluded repeatedly to her struggle, which she said has resulted in a clean bill of health.

"I have to say, after chemotherapy, Barbara Boxer just isn't that scary," Fiorina said.

For his part, DeVore on Wednesday trumpeted his backing by some of the conservatives who have been most vocal in their calls for a return for undiluted party principles. Among those speaking for him was Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a conservative stalwart who had earlier endorsed DeVore.

DeVore, 47, is a longtime conservative activist who is well known in state Republican circles, but has little name recognition across the state and no immediate access to money to counteract Fiorina's wealth. DeVore touted his experiences working in the Assembly, as a Reagan White House appointee and in the military.

"These make me better prepared to be effective as a U.S. senator from Day One, compared to the rather thin public resume of my primary opponent," DeVore said. "Being in the U.S. Senate with 99 other colleagues is not like being the CEO of a company. Even Carly Fiorina has admitted they are very different roles."

DeVore was referring to a 2008 faux pas in which Fiorina, then a top economic advisor to John McCain, told a radio station that his running mate Sarah Palin was unqualified to be a chief executive.

She was soon sidelined by the McCain team.

In her appearance, Fiorina suggested the outlines of her campaign. She demanded a smaller government, decreased spending and increased transparency. She pledged not to raise taxes and decried "rabid partisanship" in Washington.

She said Boxer's positions have killed jobs in California.

Fiorina also struck some moderate notes, calling for balancing the needs of the delta smelt and farmers in the Central Valley, and proudly pointing out that under her watch Hewlett-Packard extended benefits to gay domestic partners. But she said she objects to same-sex marriage.

--

seema.mehta@latimes.com

Times staff writer Alex Pham contributed to this report.

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