2016 Election, Carly Fiorina, Donald Trump, NewsEdge

Republican debate: How will Carly Fiorina handle Donald Trump?

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So now, after convincing CNN to bend the rules and allow her to debate with the 10 GOP front-runners on Wednesday, the real question is, can she handle the biggest boardroom bully of all, Donald Trump?

The answer could mean the difference between whether Fiorina — the closest thing to a California candidate — sizzles or fizzles.

Just six weeks ago, she was little known outside of Silicon Valley. But an odd combination of her pitch-perfect performance during the first debate and a “Trump bump” in attention after The Donald hurled an unseemly insult her way last week — “Look at that face!” — has made her the unlikely candidate to watch Wednesday night inSimi Valley.

“To the extent she can pin him back and do so in a way that is firm will also reflect on her abilities as a leader,” said political analyst Larry Gerston, professor emeritus at San Jose State University. “If she can pull that off, she will do wonders for her own candidacy and shoot a pretty good dart into his.”

Last week, in the twisted fortunes of political mudslinging, the former HP CEO triumphantly declared that “maybe, just maybe, I’m getting under his skin” after a Rolling Stone article revealed the GOP’s bad-boy front-runner had mocked Fiorina’s physical appearance to his staff while watching her recently on TV:

“Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?” Trump said of Fiorina. “Can you imagine that, the face of our next president? I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not s’posedta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?”

The dig set off another round of “Did you hear what The Donald said this time,” but did nothing to stunt his huge lead in the polls among the pack of 16 GOP hopefuls.

Fiorina made the rounds on cable news networks last week, while Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and many of her other rivals took to social media to defend her and bash Trump. In the latest average of polls on the Iowa Caucus compiled by RealClearPolitics.com, Fiorina (6 percent) had moved past Bush and Walker into fourth place behind Trump (26.8 percent), Ben Carson (20 percent) and Ted Cruz (7.4).

Fiorina’s candidacy took off last month when she appeared on the earlier “undercard” battle of lower-polling candidates before the Fox News prime-time debate.

Quick, articulate and holding a command of the issues, Fiorina came across as the clear winner of her group. Even so, she almost didn’t make the cut for CNN’s prime-time lineup, until the network loosened its interpretation of a long-ago agreed-upon formula to choose the top 10 based on poll results from before and after theFox News debate.

While American voters may just be getting to know her, Fiorina’s poise under pressure made Silicon Valley Republicans — many of whom are still critical about her rocky tenure at HP — take a second look. At a backyard gathering of the Silicon Valley Association of Republican Women not long after the first debate, Debra Janssen-Martinez said, Fiorina was all the talk.

“A lot of people were surprised. They went, ‘Wow, where did she come from? Where have we been hiding her?’ ” said Janssen-Martinez, president of the association. “She killed it in the first debate, and she needs to have a repeat — reinforce the big bounce that she got.”

Among the group’s members, many still grumble about Fiorina laying off 30,000 HP employees, her controversial acquisition of Compaq, and the “boardroom brawl” that resulted in her firing in 2005.

“But as a whole, we like what she brings — practical experience. She became a CEO on her own. She didn’t marry the president. She worked her way up,” Janssen-Martinez said. “And she doesn’t need notes. She’s very spontaneous, she’s extremely prepared and extremely well organized, and even though she’s very poised and articulate, she is very graceful. The points she makes are spot on.”

Janice Lind, a Republican from Livermore, says she still doesn’t have a favorite candidate. When she watches Trump, “I have one ear and one eye closed because I’m afraid of what’s going to come out of his mouth.” And, Lind added, Fiorina still has a lot of explaining to do about her controversial time at HP.

“I’ll be interested to see how she does in the debates,” Lind said. “When we’re talking about American jobs, she was instrumental in sending a lot of them overseas and reducing the workforce here in our country.”

Still, she called Fiorina an “incredibly intelligent woman, extremely articulate and talks about issues people are concerned about.”

Along with facing Trump, Fiorina will be debating nine other men, including Bush, Cruz, Carson and Marco Rubio. As the only woman on the stage, she — as well as the men — will have to be careful.

“It is still very difficult for male candidates to feel comfortable going against and attacking women, with the exception of Donald Trump, but he hasn’t done it to her face,” said political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a senior fellow at the University of Southern California School of Public Policy.

“When they attack a woman candidate, they don’t want to look like they are beating up on a girl,” Jeffe said. “The woman candidate has to be careful in being aggressive that she doesn’t come across as being labeled bitchy or shrill. It’s the reality of politics today.”

In some ways, Trump’s degrading remarks may help Fiorina.

At least one Republican woman who has supported Trump all along says his comments about Fiorina went too far.

“That was so unfair. You can’t talk about a person’s looks,” said Henriette “Hank” Hagman, who often goes door-to-door in her Moraga neighborhood to push Republican causes. “Of course, he gets criticized all the time for his hair and the way he holds his mouth and his expression, but for him to throw that at Carly makes him look very small.”

And so, all eyes will be on Fiorina on Wednesday night. Janssen-Martinez and other local Republicans plan to gather at Mariani’s Restaurant in Santa Clara to watch and find out whether she has staying power.

“Clearly, this is a big moment for her, and I think it speaks to the fact that she is getting a lot of attention both from the media and the public,” said Melinda Jackson, associate professor of political science at San Jose State University. “It’s going to be important to see if she can keep the momentum going.”

Contact Julia Prodis Sulek at 408-278-3409. Follow her at Twitter.com/juliasulek.

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(c)2015 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)

Visit the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) at www.mercurynews.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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  • tnetcenter

    Fiorina is just the latest Republican Establishment darling, which makes her a RINO and unworthy of the GOP nomination!!

    • Franie

      Seriously?? Are you off your meds or what? Fiorina a Rino? Don’t think so buddy. She is quite the intelligent and coherent candidate and poses a real threat to the Establishment’s darling, Jeb Bush. Nice try in smearing her reputation buddy. You’re a jerk!!

      • marlene

        Hey JERK, Take you own medications before praising a communist with global connections. And the rules were broken to allow her into the debate in the first place. I hope there are many voters like you or we’re doomed.

        • Franie

          Marlene, dear, you better “hope there are many voters like” me!!! “or we’re doomed”!!!

          Me thinks you better go back to school!!

          And FYI …. We desperately need “global connections”, which Carly Fiornia has an abundance of…far more than Hillary has, to pull us back into the #1 status as a world leader. We need our power and military might back, the precise reason why we are so weak and laughed at by world leaders. Where is your proof that Fiornia is a communist??? Smear tactics are a liberal democrat trait…and we don’t need nor want trolls like you on this site!!

          • marlene

            You live in a fool’s paradise.

          • Franie

            Aww, EMBARASSED now, are you? Next time check your grammar!!!

          • marlene

            Next time, check OUT, fool.

    • marlene

      True – and she is instrumental in keeping communism alive and growing in America. She’s a disaster for all of us.

      • Franie

        Your lack of gravitas is shining!

        • marlene

          Your mono-word vocabulary is boring and when it comes to all that you lack, there isn’t room on this page to shine my light, since it’s too dark where you’re coming from.

  • marlene

    fiorina handles everybody like the communist she is. It’s Trump’s handling of her and her ilk that I’m more interested in.

    • Franie

      Your ignorance and hatred, once again, is showing through. You’re a Hillary gal now, aren’t you? Carly will mop the floor up with Hillary, hands down. I’m just waiting for the showdown to rub your smearing nose in it!!!

      Prove she’s a communist!! Hillary is a communist with Marxist/fascist overtones, and that’s who you want in office??

      • marlene

        “Smearing”? Lol – your whole comment is one big smear. The evidence of fiorina’s communism is all over the place. You’re unteachable. Enjoy your paradise before you vote against it.

        • Franie

          If it’s “all over the place”, put your smudging finger on just one fact that she indeed is a communist, COMRADE.

          Enjoy my paradise??? You, Marlene, have just told the world that you’re a Hillary idolater.

          • marlene

            Only communists call each other COMRADE. No we know why you support YOUR comrade fiorina. You really are a disgusting troll.

          • Franie

            Sarcasm, get it? I put it all in caps so you can understand your elemental unpatriotic crap isn’t wanted on this site. You are a lying POS and you need to go away.

          • marlene

            Get lost, fool.

          • Franie

            FACTS?????????

    • Dr. Bob

      Hey, Marlene, get off the meds. Carly and Trump are both great! She’s a communist? you must be a troll!

      • marlene

        And you’re an uneducated fool. You’re also brain-addled with confusion to put Trump and fiorina together, which is a contradiction in terms. Get ON your meds.

        • Franie

          Get off this site, troll.

          • marlene

            Get lost, fool.

      • Franie

        Dr. Bob, Marlene is a troll!! I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if she was pro-Hillary! Democrats think that if they say something often enough, it must be true. Liberal, progressive democrats like Marlene are a scourge on society. No joke!!

    • Franie

      I’m more interested in your blatant smear tactics on Carly Fiornia. Where are your facts? Where do you come off calling her a communist?? Do you not know that lying is a CARDINAL/MORTAL SIN??? Prove with FACTS that she is a communist, fool!!!

      • marlene

        It’s not slander when it’s true. Choke on your insults and get another prescription. You are freakish, just like a troll.

        • Franie

          FACTS!! Where are your facts to back up that smearing, lying mouth of yours??

          • marlene

            You have a filthy mouth, attitude and mind. Where are YOUR facts, fool?

          • Franie

            Nothing filthy about my mouth. However, you ARE pathetic with throwing out untruths and smearing lies about another. Shame on you!!! NO FACTS – NO TRUTH!! Democrats can never, ever back up their lying, smearing tactics…NEVER!! Marlene, dear, you have proven beyond a shadow of doubt, the piece of human debris you wallow in.

          • marlene

            You’re disgusting. I feel sorry for the people you kiss with your foul mouth.

  • charliewalksonwater
    • Franie

      Don’t be so sure. That’s a pretty cocky statement there.

  • Red Steiner

    Boardroom bully or consummate negotiator? Trump cuts through the BS. I have listened to this woman speak and she is good, however, many, myself not included, thought Obama was a great orator. To me his words were those of a sensation seeking parasite.

    We are fortunate in that neither Fiornia nor Trump are attorneys nor are they politicians. If I had to choose between her and the Queen of Benghazi I would opt for Carly every time. It’s my belief that Trump is the best choice. I contend that he will negotiate/bully America back to her rightful place as the greatest nation in the world. I may be wrong but I wasn’t wrong about Obama.

    • Franie

      I am so there with you Red. You’re right!!

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