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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS

McCain stumps for Fiorina

The Arizona senator sets aside his own campaign battles to raise money for her Republican primary race. She worked for him in 2008.

April 07, 2010|By Seema Mehta

Sen. John McCain left his own tough primary battle in Arizona to weigh in on the California Senate race on Tuesday when he visited the state to campaign for Carly Fiorina.

But McCain's appearance in a state where he lost the 2008 presidential election to Barack Obama by 24 points highlighted the challenges Fiorina faces in her first run for political office.

Although she touts her work as a McCain surrogate during his presidential run, she was sidelined by his advisors after repeated gaffes that presaged ones she has made in this campaign. And although the multimillionaire former head of Hewlett-Packard has positioned herself as an outsider competing against career politicians, McCain's backing could be seen as proof to the conservative voters Fiorina is wooing that she is the primary candidate hand-picked by the party elite.

"She's a symbol of a successful woman and somebody who embodies the entrepreneurial spirit," said Jack Pitney, a former national GOP official who now teaches government at Claremont McKenna College. "But she doesn't have any political experience, and that inexperience shows."

McCain, speaking at a small gathering at Affinity Medical Technologies in Irvine, argued that Fiorina's business acumen makes her the ideal candidate to shake up Capitol Hill.

"She is exactly what we need in the U.S. Senate," he said, before holding two fundraisers for Fiorina, who is in a three-way primary race with former Rep. Tom Campbell and Orange County Assemblyman Chuck DeVore. The winner will take on Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.

McCain raised tens of thousand of dollars for Fiorina, her campaign spokeswoman said, but beyond that it's unclear how much his appearance will help her. McCain has represented Arizona in Congress for 27 years and is viewed with deep skepticism among the most energetic of the party faithful, part of the reason he is facing a tough primary challenge from the right from former Rep. J.D. Hayworth. This disdain was evident at the event, his sole public appearance on Fiorina's behalf, when one voter was openly hostile to him.

The Arizona senator's appearance mirrored Fiorina's efforts to reach out to voters for him in 2008. She traveled with him, served as a campaign surrogate and was used particularly to appeal to women voters.

"It wasn't perfect," said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a senior policy advisor to McCain during his presidential campaign. But "she really was very talented, obviously very articulate, poised, not easily rattled."

But Fiorina made several gaffes that McCain's campaign had to deal with, particularly in regard to health plan coverage for birth control and McCain's stance on Roe vs. Wade. She criticized plans that covered Viagra but not female contraceptives, a touchy subject for any candidate courting religious voters, much less a septuagenarian one who had twice voted against requiring plans to cover birth control. She also told women that McCain had "never signed on" to efforts to repeal the abortion rights decision; his campaign later clarified that he in fact believed it must be overturned.

She was permanently sidelined two months before the election when she told a radio host that Sarah Palin, McCain's vice presidential pick, lacked the experience to lead a major corporation. She made the situation worse when she sought to clarify her remarks by adding that McCain and then-Sens. Obama and Joe Biden also were unqualified.

When asked about those remarks on Tuesday, McCain joked, "Did she say that?" Fiorina added, "I was making a general comment about all politicians, by the way, not John McCain specifically."

Fiorina's opponents have seized on other statements Fiorina made during the 2008 election to paint her as flip-flopping on issues, notably the Wall Street bailout. On Tuesday, a spokesman for DeVore mocked the joint appearance.

"If you want a demonstration of how out of touch Carly Fiorina is, Exhibit A must be her belief that Republicans miss the McCain '08 campaign," said Joshua Trevino.

But campaigning for McCain may have helped Fiorina prepare for this run.

"She's a lot better as an advocate for her own candidacy than she was as a surrogate for someone else's," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC and a former political operative.

seema.mehta@latimes.com

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