There aren't a lot of walls around Carly Fiorina. While politicos have marveled at the missteps of Meg Whitman's $140 million Titanic of a campaign, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO has made herself accessible to journalists in her bid to unseat Sen. Barbara Boxer.
She hasn't over-parsed her positions. She didn't try to retool her take on the issues after she won the GOP primary. There's a real what-you-see-is-what-you-get feel to Fiorina.
Fiorina is new to politics and has a spotty voting record. Those are points against her. But as the first woman to head a Fortune top 20 corporation, she understands what California and Washington need to do to compete in the world and reduce painfully high unemployment.
Besides, Fiorina's not selling big government as the answer. What more do you need to know?
Boxer always has tried to paint her GOP rivals as extremists -- and that's been a winning formula since she first won office in 1992 -- so she's hitting Fiorina for being pro-life. But it's clear that social issues are not on Fiorina's front burner.
The senator also is going after Fiorina for laying off 30,000 workers and outsourcing jobs when she was at HP's helm -- then taking a $21 million severance package when the board fired her.
Which makes Fiorina guilty of -- what? -- having been a Silicon Valley CEO.
Fiorina doesn't run away from her record. At the only televised debate of the race, Fiorina told a former HP employee, "This is the 21st century. Any job can go anywhere. And what worries me deeply is the jobs we lose now may not come back. And so we have to fight for every job. The truth is that California has a higher-than-average unemployment rate" -- it's 12.4 percent -- "because we are destroying jobs and others are fighting harder for our jobs."
Boxer promises to be the California senator who will fight for "American jobs." How? She is a cog in a Democratic machine that adjourned Congress and left town without extending the Bush tax cuts for anyone.
How can Boxer help create American jobs when her party wouldn't even extend the tax cuts for households earning less than $250,000 because Democratic leaders are afraid of being outmaneuvered by the GOP?
Boxer isn't quite a liberal cartoon character. She has worked with Republicans on public-works bills. She backed a provision to restrict abortion coverage to win a vote by Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb. for Obamacare. She voted to deny federal housing funds to ACORN. She also voted to fund an extra $1.7 billion on F-22s, which the Pentagon didn't request.
But sometimes, the power goes to Boxer's head. Under her leadership in 2008, the Senate Ethics Committee went after Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., for "a serious violation of Senate rules." His misdeed? Also an obstetrician, Coburn was delivering babies back home for free. Then there's the infamous episode in which she scolded a brigadier general for calling her "ma'am," instead of senator.
I got a close view of that Boxer in August when she came to the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board. I asked Boxer about an infamous confrontation she had with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2007, when Boxer told Rice that she would not pay a "personal price" for sending U.S. troops to war.
At the time, Boxer crowed that she was "speaking truth to power." But at the meeting, she told me that she mentioned the lack of personal price -- which they both shared because Rice didn't have children and Boxer's were too old to serve -- "to bring us together." Huh? Worse, Boxer claimed that she was angry because she had asked Rice how many U.S. troops had died in Iraq, but Rice didn't know.
Only problem is: It wasn't true. Boxer never asked Rice how many U.S. troops had died in Iraq. Politifact investigated and found Boxer's "revisionist account" to be a "pants on fire" distortion.
It wasn't Boxer's first foray in fiction, and no contrast seems sharper than the gulf between the candidates' books. Boxer co-wrote two novels about a too-good-to-be-true spunky liberal California senator from California. At one point, the fictional Democratic leader tells Boxer's alter ego, "You've personally raised the integrity bar. People are asking themselves, if they can't trust you, then who can they trust?"
Fiorina's New York Times best-seller memoir, "Tough Choices," presents an executive who makes mistakes and enemies, but moves forward. At HP, she pushed for a "hard-nosed focus on merit, excellence, and performance." Her goal was to take a softened corporate giant and return it "step by step" into a "meritocracy."
You don't hear politicians in Washington talk about "meritocracy" anymore. You don't hear them demand excellence. As for Boxer, the sound you hear loudest from her corner is the sound of a senator patting herself on the back.
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