Fiorina’s feminism comes to the fore

October 6, 2015

Is Carly Fiorina a feminist?

The answer, according to the Republican presidential candidate at a Monday rotary club luncheon, is it depends. A young man questioned Fiorina and received bipartisan laughter at the event in Manchester, New Hampshire after she asked him for his definition of the term, and he said it was someone who fights for equality for men and women in the workplace, and who tried to boot sexism out of it.

Her definition was different: “That every woman, regardless of her circumstances, has the opportunity to live the life she chooses.”

Carly Fiorina

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina smiles as she is introduced at a house party at the home of former State Senator Bob Clegg in Hudson, New Hampshire, October 3, 2015. REUTERS/Mary Schwalm – RTS2WAM

Her audience applauded wildly, so she explained that maybe a woman would opt not to work and instead homeschool her five children, a likely tip of the hat to a critically important voting bloc in Iowa. Or maybe they would choose to run up the corporate ladder and become a chief executive as she did, perhaps a plea for independent women leaning toward Hillary Clinton’s trailblazing.

But the word, feminist, she said, was one that has become “politically loaded.”

To that end she complained: “There are a lot of liberal women who use the term feminism all the time who would describe my candidacy as an offense to women.” She chalked that up to policy disagreements, but dismissed the idea that women must agree on issues to admire each other.”

There’s a lot that I admire about Hillary Clinton. She’s hardworking, she’s intelligent. I disagree with her profoundly,” she said, adding she believes Clinton jeopardized U.S. national security.

If she had to champion the same set of issues as liberal women, she said she would not consider herself a feminist. But “when feminism is about a woman’s ability to choose what she wants, what she believes, and how she lives, then most definitely, I am a feminist.” She got her second sustained applause from the bipartisan crowd when she wrapped up the answer.

It’s a tougher issue in this election than most expect. Clinton abandoned running on her gender in 2008 to ill effect and is now embracing it. Plenty of women would love to hear “Hail to the chief” saluting one of their own, and a general election between Clinton and Fiorina would ensure the opportunity. That kind of contest would also lead to woman-on-woman political combat, which stands every chance of being labeled a cat fight in the politically incorrect corners of the media.

Fiorina has crept up to that line before without crossing it, inviting her crowds to support her because she knows they’d just love to see her debate Clinton. She didn’t make such a remark today (instead praising Clinton’s intellect and work ethic despite their policy differences), but it was all several women in the restroom after were buzzing about.

What’s more, several of the female attendees — two of whom are longtime Democratic voters — had soured on Clinton and have warmed to Fiorina.

Mary Constance, the retired executive director of a special needs camp in Bedford, New Hampshire, and an independent voter, said she hadn’t cast a ballot for a Republican in years and backed President Obama twice. She was impressed with Fiorina and called Clinton dishonest.

Cindy Gaffney, a registered Democrat who works in media relations for a children and family services group, is a longtime Clinton supporter who was wildly impressed with Fiorina and hopes for the chance to choose between the two of them. She worries the controversy over Clinton’s e-mail server may bury her candidacy and believes the Secretary of State should have owned up to it from the beginning.

And Loretta DeMarco, who runs events at the Italian restaurant holding the event, is an independent who has long leaned Republican. She said she used to love Clinton but no longer trusts her. Fiorina, by contrast, moved her to tears.

All three women found the former HP CEO more honest and down to earth than Clinton.

In new NBC News/Marist polls out today, voters are tipping in Fiorina’s direction. In head-to-head matchups, Fiorina leads Clinton 52 percent to 38 percent in Iowa and 50 percent to 42 percent in New Hampshire.


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