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Fiorina positions herself as experienced outsider

By ELI OKUN
Sunday News Correspondent

January 24. 2016 2:11AM
Carly Fiorina addresses a town hall crowd Saturday afternoon at the Atkinson Country Club. (Eli Okun)



HUDSON — Carly Fiorina speaks on a soothing, even keel, bemoaning the state of American leadership and in the same breath reassuring voters that solutions are well within reach.

“None of this is rocket science,” she said toward the end of a town hall here Saturday morning. It's one of her favorite refrains: Political dysfunction isn't intractable, if Americans could just elect an experienced outsider to clean things up.

But who's the right outsider, and what's the right experience?

That, of course, is the question of the campaign, as senators criticize the rest of Washington, governors blast the Senate and non-politicians threaten to shake the whole thing up.

In town halls and a speech Saturday, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO sought to convince Granite Staters that her business experience and international expertise qualify her best to claim a mantle that several of her higher-polling rivals seek as well.

“Donald Trump casts himself as an outsider, but he is the ultimate insider,” Fiorina said at an American Legion post in Hudson.

His past contributions to Hillary Clinton and other Democrats position Trump as the epitome of crony capitalism, she said at the #FITN Presidential Town Hall in Nashua — the same line of criticism that Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have lobbed this weekend.

Though Fiorina mostly offered polished, fully formed answers to questions from the audience, one exchange in Hudson strayed a bit off script. In response to a question about religious freedom, she said that “religious liberty is under assault in this nation” and cited Catholic groups being forced to provide birth control.

But the man who'd asked the question then posed a follow-up: What about Jews and Muslims who feel their religious liberty threatened, too?

Fiorina barely mentioned Muslims in her response, except to say that Jewish places of worship were far likelier targets of vandalism in the United States.

“Yes, let us stand up and protect everyone's religious liberty,” she added. “But let us not keep ignoring the fact, as so many in politics and the media do, that Christians and Jewish Americans feel under assault in their own nation as well.”

In perhaps an indication of her focus on appealing to the conservative base, Fiorina sidestepped some questions in Nashua that might have pushed her toward the center.

When a man asked about the militarization of the American police, Fiorina advocated body cameras for cops and called for restoring respect of the police, but quickly pivoted to the Department of Veterans Affairs scandal.

And when another man asked about promoting sex education as a means of curtailing abortions, Fiorina only briefly touted private pregnancy centers that can provide education before re-emphasizing her general pro-life bona fides.

In an interview after her speech in Nashua, Fiorina said she would approach the forthcoming peace talks in Syria differently than the Obama administration has.

“I don't particularly trust any of the people who are supposedly engaging in peace talks,” especially Russia and Iran, she said. “So I would set up a very different set of talks with a different set of players than we have right now.”

Asked which other groups she would prefer to see in the talks, she said, “It's a hypothetical situation right now,” before reiterating her opposition to including Russia and Iran.

On Saturday, Fiorina's message — shrinking government, implementing zero-based budgeting and simplifying the tax code — seemed to be resonating.

As she spoke in lofty terms about restoring a sense of possibility and shaking up the status quo, and addressed the audience as “citizens” seemingly every other sentence, the crowd in Nashua gave her a warm reception.

“She was the best so far,” one woman murmured.

At a town hall later that afternoon in Atkinson, Fiorina emphasized how critical New Hampshire is to her presidential hopes: “You send me out of here with the wind at my back, I can go all the way.”

And asked why she's the best candidate to beat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Fiorina said, “In all humility, I know more about every single subject than she does.”

Susan Fineman of Nashua was 100 percent on board — as she has been since she first heard Fiorina speak on the news. “She can think on her feet. She has concrete solutions,” Fineman said in Hudson. “I just find her to be a brilliant candidate.”

For Merrimack resident Harvey Bloom, Trump has been a positive presence to stir things up in the race, but he prefers Fiorina or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to actually lead in office. Fiorina's focus on reducing government appeals to him.

“Right now, it's just crazy,” Bloom said. “It's like an octopus with tentacles wrapping around the individual.”

eokun@newstote.com


Politics Presidential Hudson Nashua Atkinson Carly Fiorina


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