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Carly Fiorina: 'I'm Running for President'

CEOs have never fared well in presidential politics.

Via Carly for President

Carly Fiorina, the onetime CEO of the Silicon Valley stalwart company Hewlett-Packard, formally declared herself a candidate for president today in TV interviews and in a video announcement on her campaign’s website.

The 60-year-old Fiorina joined a rapidly swelling field of presidential candidates hoping to grab headlines and campaign contributions from sympathetic Republicans, and to position herself as an alternative to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is the leading contender on the Democratic side.

Apparently aiming to seize the mantle of the political outsider — she has never held any elective office — she started her video by switching off a TV screen playing Clinton’s campaign announcement from last month. “Our founders never intended us to have a professional political class,” she said. “They believed that citizens and leaders needed to step forward.”

The beginning of Fiorina’s formal campaign marks the end of an exploratory period that began with an interview with a newspaper late last year. It will also prompt a detailed reexamination of her record both as a candidate for U.S. Senate — she failed to unseat California’s Barbara Boxer in 2010 — and as the head of HP.

During her five-year stint running HP she initiated a controversial $20 billion acquisition of Compaq Computer in 2002. The takeover vaulted HP to the top of the personal computer market, a position it held until 2013 when it was eclipsed by China’s Lenovo. But it also led to the firing of some 15,000 HP and Compaq employees.

It took HP a few years to digest Compaq. Its share price suffered, and it missed earnings guidance a few times, an unforgivable sin for an HP CEO. By early 2005, the company’s board of directors had pushed her out and soon replaced her with Mark Hurd, the former CEO of NCR, and now CEO at software giant Oracle.

With a career in business behind her, she wrote a best-selling memoir and then turned to politics. In 2008 she appeared on TV networks as a spokesperson for John McCain’s presidential campaign, chairing the Republican National Committee’s “Victory ’08” committee and serving as an economic adviser to the candidate. In the days before McCain selected Sarah Palin as his running mate, Fiorina’s primary role was to serve as what the New York Times called “a high-profile female face” for a candidate unpopular with women.

Months later, during one of those TV appearances, she suggested that neither Palin nor McCain were qualified to run a major corporation. That ill-advised moment of candor enraged the candidates and Fiorina soon disappeared from the political TV circuit.

She re-emerged as a candidate for U.S. Senate in California where she sought to oust Barbara Boxer. When it emerged that she scarcely ever voted in elections, she said “Shame on me,” but went on to take 42 percent of California’s vote in that election.

CEOs have rarely done well in presidential politics. Voters overwhelmingly favor candidates with prior elective experience, either in Congress or as the governor of a state. The most successful candidate to never hold office before was Ross Perot, the former CEO of the tech services company EDS. (EDS is now part of HP.)

Republican polling data shows her running dead last among a field of possible contenders, lagging behind Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, and nowhere near striking distance of established candidates like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker.

Expect a polling bump owing to media coverage of today’s announcement, and the fact that she’s a female candidate running against Clinton. But that novelty can’t last, and isn’t exactly new: Elizabeth Dole, the wife of the longtime Senator and 1996 GOP nominee Bob Dole briefly ran for president ahead of the 2000 election, but her campaign failed to win support from donors.

If Fiorina does win the support of donors, then if history is any guide the more realistic scenario says that she will be running, at best, for a spot on the ticket with the eventual nominee, or more likely a chance to play a meaningful role in the GOP’s 2016 campaign that could lead in turn to a cabinet position or ambassadorship in a Republican administration in 2017. Establishment Republicans will be wary. Her message bashing a “permanent political class” implicitly applies equally to Republicans as it does Democrats, and won’t make her any friends. Time will tell if it will resonate with voters.

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