SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina brought her outside-the-political-bubble appeal to South Portland and more than 500 attendees of the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center’s Freedom and Opportunity Luncheon.
“It’s time the president remembers who he or she works for,” Fiorina said. “The first thing I would do as president is put a system in place to hold myself and my team accountable.”
Fiorina is a former business executive who rose from a secretary to the helm of first AT&T, then Lucent Technologies and — in 1999 — Hewlett-Packard, where she served as chief executive officer until 2005. As such, she was the first woman to lead one of Fortune magazine’s top 20 companies. Among other things, Fiorina oversaw Hewlett-Packard’s merger with Compaq in 2002, during which she ordered the layoffs of 30,000 employees in the United States.
Fiorina will be explaining her role at Hewlett-Packard — which some in the mainstream media have called a “badge of shame” — and her eventual firing from the position, throughout the campaign.
“At the end of that period, yeah, I was fired in a board room brawl that played out over two weeks,” Fiorina said Thursday. “When you call out the status quo, you make enemies. That is why we can find so few people who want to lead.”
To some — mostly conservative — observers, Fiorina made tough choices that turned around a floundering Hewlett-Packard. For that reason she is “one of the most sought-after tech executives in the world” and “indisputably a first-tier candidate for president,” according to Neal Freeman, a Maine Heritage Policy Center director emeritus who introduced Fiorina Thursday.
Support for Fiorina in August, however, was not high enough to earn her a spot on the stage in the first Republican presidential debate hosted by the Fox News Network.
But there are indications that Fiorina is picking up steam, including inching upward in the polls since the first Republican presidential debate. While polling data months before the first caucus and primary is erratic and rarely a good indication of the final outcome, she has nudged up to about 5.5 percent, which puts her in about the middle of the crowded GOP field.
This week, she received a boost when CNN announced the network would include her in its Sept. 16 GOP debate. She also received welcome attention in Maine Wednesday when she was endorsed by GOP state Sen. Amy Volk of Scarborough.
During Thursday’s talk to a roomful of likely Republican primary voters, Fiorina hammered on the issue of bringing accountability to government through zero-based budgeting — meaning forcing government agencies to justify their programs and spending — as a means toward reducing the burden on Americans and American businesses.
“One of the greatest issues at stake in this election is will we restore American leadership?” Fiorina said. “Will we reignite the engine of ingenuity, entrepreneurship and leadership? Will we return the government of this nation to the people of this nation?”
She also focused on bringing accountability to the White House and, by extension, Congress.
“Politicians will respond to pressure,” she said. “As a leader, I will galvanize the citizens of this nation to focus pressure so we can get some of the basic things done that will allow us to cut the size of government down.”
Regina Longyear traveled to South Portland specifically to see Fiorina speak. Longyear said she found Fiorina genuine.
“She’s the kind of woman I wish was my best friend,” Longyear said. “If you had an issue or a problem, she seems like someone you could go to and she would listen.”
Bob Montgomery of Industry said he was impressed with Fiorina’s call for justice and for equal enforcement of the law.
“The laws should be enforced impartially and fairly,” he said. “She’s about the most coherent spokesperson for that that I’ve seen.”
Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett called Fiorina’s career a failure.
“It’s fitting that Carly Fiorina is aligning herself with an extreme right-wing think tank that promotes the same failed policies that hold back Maine’s economic growth,” Bartlett said in a written statement. “While Fiorina likes to talk up her business experience, her record is nothing to brag about. … Fiorina can’t run from her own business record on the campaign trail and hardworking Mainers deserve better than more failed economic policies from the Republican Party.”
During Thursday’s luncheon, the Maine Heritage Policy Center presented its 2015 Freedom and Opportunity Award to Dick Dyke, owner of Windham Weaponry, “for his commitment to free enterprise, economic opportunity and constitutional freedoms.”
Dyke explained his rags-to-riches story, including how he bought and rebuilt 59 companies, most of them out of bankruptcy. His first and smallest deal involved buying four central Maine plots of land for $200.
“I don’t know if I’m done yet at 59 companies but I hope not,” he said. “I think we’ve done a lot of good in the world. … You’ve got to give back in this world; you can’t be greedy. … If you think you did it all for yourself, you’re kidding yourself and you’re kidding the world.”