For months, opponents of Republican Senate nominee Carly Fiorina have predicted that her record as chief executive of Hewlett-Packard — laying off tens of thousands of workers and outsourcing jobs to other countries — would lead to her defeat in November. But on Wednesday, Fiorina sought to turn that logic on its head, arguing that her experience with those difficult decisions makes her uniquely qualified to tackle job creation issues in Washington.
During a discussion with several dozen women on a rooftop of a Beverly Hills office building Wednesday, Fiorina fielded a series of easy-going questions about her plans to help recent college graduates, to repeal the healthcare bill and to retain jobs in California. But she also touched on her campaign strategy after Marcia Hobbs, an associate publisher with the Beverly Hills Courier Publishing Group, asked how she planned to deflect criticisms of her record at Hewlett-Packard.
Fiorina predicted that her opponent, Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, would spend the next five months trying to demonize her by pointing to job cuts under her watch at Hewlett-Packard and her decision to move jobs to other countries. But she told her audience that she managed the company through the dot-com bust "and like every family and every business in this state, I know what it is to make tough choices."
In a year of deep discontent with leaders in Washington, Fiorina suggested, voters will be more motivated by their frustration with policies that she said hindered job growth and the perception that the federal government "seems incapable and unwilling to make any tough choices."
"The fact that Barbara Boxer attacks me for outsourcing jobs demonstrates that she has no idea what is going on in the 21st century economy," Fiorina said, insisting that California was losing jobs not just because of the national recession but because of a hostile business climate. "That's why we need someone in Washington, D.C., who understands why jobs go and how to get them back."
In her memoirs, Fiorina acknowledged that she knew before she pushed a controversial 2001 merger of Hewlett-Packard and Compaq Computer Corp. that it would lead to the loss of thousands of jobs. The company also laid off 6,000 workers shortly before the merger was announced, and job cuts occurred each year after through 2005, when she was fired. But asked after the event Wednesday whether she had any regrets about those cuts, Fiorina defended her decisions.
"Every business in this state knows that there are times when you face a terrible decision: do you lay off some to save the enterprise?" she said. "Barbara Boxer doesn't understand it; she can't possibly understand it."
But Boxer's campaign manager, Rose Kapolczynski, said Fiorina's choices at HP placed "profits over people."
"If times were tough and layoffs were necessary why was she able to hire workers overseas? Why was she able to order a new corporate jet?," Kapolczynski said. "It wasn't that belt-tightening had to go on across her company, it was that she decided laying off American workers was the best approach."
Fiorina has cast her Democratic opponent as a relic of the past and, in a sign of the rough contest ahead, she made some overt digs at Boxer's age Wednesday. At 55, Fiorina is 14 years younger than Boxer.
At one point she noted that Boxer entered politics 34 years ago — "just to put that into context, Microsoft had not been formed when Barbara Boxer became a politician. The median age of Californians is 33-years-old. Barbara Boxer has literally been a politician for a lifetime," she said.
Kapolczynski brushed off those lines Wednesday, arguing that Fiorina was running on her brief record at Hewlett-Packard while Boxer "brings a wealth of experience and accomplishment" to her bid for reelection. "I think that's a benefit," she said.