After spending months trying to convince Republican audiences that she is conservative to her core, GOP Senate nominee Carly Fiorina abruptly shifted strategy Saturday, campaigning in heavily Democratic South Los Angeles at a Juneteenth celebration where she was both warmly received and shouted down as a "two-faced liar" and a "turncoat."
She strolled through Leimert Plaza Park with a traditional African scarf draped around her neck and a campaign photographer and videographer in tow — the visit grounded in political necessity as she looks ahead to a general election battle against Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. After winning the primary as a sharp critic of President Obama, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive must now win the support of independent voters and some Democrats to overcome her party's registration disadvantage in the state.
For more than an hour Saturday afternoon, Fiorina made the rounds at the celebration, which commemorates the end of slavery. She bought a purple beaded bracelet for $15, ate watermelon, sampled barbecue sauce and avoided the perils of eating ribs on-camera by taking them in tinfoil to go.
Though many people had to ask her staff who Fiorina was, they crowded around to shake her hand, request her autograph and thank her for visiting South Los Angeles.
"I think it's very brave of her to come out, because she certainly knows the kind of crowd she's facing," said Cathy Youngblood, 58, a cultural anthropologist from Watts. "She's shown by being here, she's willing to listen. … Do you see any other politicians here?"
Fiorina had a tougher time once she took the stage. As she regularly does, the candidate portrayed her rise from secretary to head of Hewlett-Packard as the embodiment of the American dream. She steered clear of her criticism of Obama — she has railed against the stimulus package and called for repeal of the healthcare reform bill — instead citing him as proof that all Americans can fulfill their potential.
"While we have still much work to go, while there is still much injustice, we do live in a country where an African American man can become president of the United States, the most powerful leader in the world," Fiorina said to applause.
But midway through her remarks, 39-year-old Heather Buzzard charged through the crowd, shouting: "You are a turncoat and a back-stabber, you can't even stand black people. You are a two-faced liar."
Buzzard eventually left after a man in the front row turned and told her, "We invite everybody here." Moments later, another woman mockingly kneeled on the grass in front of Fiorina and bowed her head to the ground.
In an interview, Buzzard said she couldn't believe Fiorina "had the audacity to show her face."
"She's trying to use black people to get their vote and play on their stupidity, to play on their unawareness," said Buzzard, a blogger and spiritual advisor from Leimert Park who described Fiorina as "right-wing." "But it's not going to work this year.... We are more aware."
Michaelann Logan, who stood near Fiorina in front of the barbecue stand, called the candidate's appearance "a floor show" and "a front."
"People need to learn and read about what her constituency is about," said Logan, a 68-year old Democrat who is retired from the music industry. "Just to show up on June 19 is an insult. What happens to all the other days?"
Raphael J. Sonenshein, a Cal State Fullerton political science professor and author of a book on racial politics in Los Angeles, said Fiorina's visit Saturday was less about winning votes there, which he said was a "remote" possibility, than about moving past her conservative image.
"For a candidate who's got herself out on a limb — not just with Democrats and independents, but specifically with Latinos — she needs to show that she has an interest in speaking to the whole community of California," said Sonenshein, referring to Fiorina's support of the Arizona illegal immigration bill. "If you're a Republican and you go to a community where you are least likely to do well, that would at least attract a little attention."
Fiorina said after her speech that she felt it was important to commemorate Juneteenth. Asked why voters who disagree with her views on the Obama administration's performance, the stimulus measures and the healthcare bill should vote for her, Fiorina said she believed her emphasis on job creation was paramount.
"I think what people in every community want most is opportunity, and when I talk to these people, what they want most is the dignity and the opportunity that comes with a job," she replied.
Pressed on whether the hundreds of thousands of dollars of stimulus funding that have gone to charter schools and a health clinic near Leimert Park had been wasted, Fiorina said she was "delighted that some of the stimulus money has gone to good projects. But that doesn't mean the stimulus has been a success."