Carly Fiorina officially kicked off her presidential bid on Monday with an online announcement paired with an appearance on Good Morning America. Both featured Hillary Clinton as a supporting character. “I have a lot of admiration for Hillary Clinton, but she clearly is not trustworthy,” Fiorina told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos.
Fiorina’s bid for the Republican nomination is, to put it kindly, a long shot. The former Hewlett-Packard CEO entered the week polling at about 1 percent in national GOP surveys, and only marginally better in Iowa (2 percent) and New Hampshire (1.7 percent). Those numbers will likely tick upward as more voters have the chance to hear her on the trail or see her on cable news, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone outside Fiorina’s inner circle who believes she poses a legitimate challenge to the current GOP favorites as things stand today.
The former executive, though, won’t necessarily need to catch lightning in a bottle to carve out a spot in the national conversation. Her gender and corporate résumé—she rose from the secretary pool to become the first woman to lead a Fortune 20 company—will make her impossible to ignore on a GOP stage overflowing with white men who are career politicians. And, as she proved during her failed 2010 bid to unseat California Sen. Barbara Boxer, Fiorina is also more than willing to use her personal fortune to fund her political dreams. Unlike other long-shot candidates, then, she won’t need to find a deep-pocketed patron to keep her campaign afloat during the dog days of primary season—she has the cash to do that all by herself if need be.
But perhaps Fiorina’s biggest advantage when it comes to stealing the spotlight from her better-known Republican rivals will be her willingness to go negative early and often against Clinton, something she proved yet again Monday. “Our founders never intended for us to have a professional political class,” Fiorina says in her launch video, which begins with her watching Clinton’s own announcement on her television.
The juxtaposition was far from a surprise. In the past Fiorina has routinely peppered her stump speeches, campaign stops, and even Facebook posts with digs at the Democratic front-runner, going to great lengths to hit the former secretary of state on topics both serious (her transparency) and silly (her sunglass etiquette). Fiorina often touts her own résumé in one breath, and takes aim at Clinton’s in the next. “Like Hillary Clinton, I have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles around the globe,” the former corporate executive told a crowd at the Iowa Freedom Summit in January. “Unlike her, I have accomplished something.”
Attacking Clinton is, of course, hardly unusual in the world of conservative politics. But Fiorina’s campaign is unique in that it is built on the idea that she’ll be able to do so more aggressively than her rivals, in no small part because of her gender. “When the general election rolls around, we better have a nominee who can throw those punches all day long,” Fiorina told the crowd at last month’s Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition summit after unleashing a string of her favorite Hillary-themed attacks.
Fiorina has already made it clear that she plans to continue campaigning as though she’s already in a woman-to-woman race with Clinton. “I really don’t need to spend a lot of energy distinguishing myself from other Republican candidates because everything about me is different,” she told Fox News recently. That strategy will likely boost her national profile, and it may even be enough to put her on the eventual nominee’s shortlist for vice president or Cabinet positions. But if she really wants to be the one throwing punches at Clinton in the general election, she’ll need to start throwing a few at her GOP rivals first.