DeVore Rallies Base in Challenge Against Former Hewlett Packard CEO
Carly Fiorina announced her 2010 campaign for California’s U.S. Senate seat in the usual way. She rolled out a new website. She bounded across a stage at a “green detergents” factory to the strains of “Surfin’ U.S.A.” and gave a short speech about “solutions that work.” Then she added a step that has become more-or-less essential for serious Republicans–a conference call with conservative bloggers. Over 23 minutes, she fielded some of the friendlier questions she’d get all day, such as whether she’d learned anything from 2009’s successful Republican candidates that could help her in her challenge to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Ca.).
“My team knows very well how to run a campaign against a nasty Democrat,” said Fiorina.
Halfway through the call, however, conservative blogger Dan Riehl awoke the elephant in the room. Did Fiorina have anything to say to Chuck DeVore? One day earlier, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) had endorsed DeVore, a Republican assemblyman from Irvine, Ca. who had been running against Boxer for months, and had pre-emptively attacked Fiorina for her allegedly liberal positions.
“I am a pro-life conservative,” said Fiorina. “I believe in the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman. I am a fiscal conservative. In other words, I share the conservative values that many Republican voters share, and have been public about that for a very long time.”
Riehl stayed on the line, posing more questions from the right about McCain-Feingold campaign legislation, and about regulation of the internet. “I’m just picking up on things that I’ve seen,” he said, “that have been used to come after you from the conservative base.” And Fiorina, who had not brought up DeVore, went after him for accepting DeMint’s endorsement. “I find it interesting,” she said, “that Chuck DeVore, a couple weeks ago, was claiming that he is an anti-establishment candidate and perhaps he isn’t quite so much.”
It was a punchy debut for a candidate who, if national Republicans had their way, would not be worrying about a primary. Getting Fiorina, the multi-millionaire former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, to make the race, was a coup for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. And in other public appearances, Fiorina has brushed DeVore aside. Her opponent, she says, is Boxer. The man who got into this race in November 2008 should be an afterthought. As he ties Fiorina in the polls and turns conservative activists against her–as he talks bluntly about fascism and even about Barack Obama’s birth records–he’s forced Republicans to pay attention.
In the wake of the NY-23 special election debacle, where Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman united the national conservative movement against a liberal Republican candidate and let a Democrat sneak in to win a key congressional seat, Republican strategists are looking at more contested primaries than they’d like. While the Senate primary between Marco Rubio and Gov. Charlie Crist (R-Fla.) has gotten the most attention, there are primaries in Ohio, Kentucky, New Hampshire and to a lesser extent Illinois that pit experienced Republican politicians against more ideological activist candidates–some with deep pockets. Democrats who are running defense on their control of Congress are making all they can out of primary battles that, so far, have driven candidates such as Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) to dent their moderate credentials as they try to win over the party’s base.
The California primary is something of an aberration. DeVore has a longer political resume than Fiorina. Her political baptism came as an adviser to the McCain-Palin campaign. He worked for the Reagan administration and entered the California legislature since 2005. He has a lengthy voting record and a longer rhetoric of conservative speeches and blog posts. Ever since it became clear that Fiorina might jump in the race, his small campaign staff has laid traps for her by portraying her as a closet moderate–the kind of candidate many Republicans believe they need in blue California, but not one the base should have to settle for.
“I’m a movement conservative,” DeVore told TWI. “I’ve been in the conservative movement since 1981. I was head of the College Republicans at Cal State-Fullerton.”
DeVore’s case to national activists has been bolstered by unexpectedly strong showings in the polls. According to a Field Poll conducted in October, Fiorina, who had once led DeVore 31-20 in trial heats, had fallen into a 21-20 tie. That Field Poll showed Boxer leading Fiorina by 14 points and DeVore by 17 points; a Rasmussen Poll conducted in September, before both candidates were in the race, showed the race closer, with DeVore outperforming Fiorina. And a November Los Angeles Times poll had DeVore and Fiorina tied at 27 percent each.
One Democratic strategist suggested that if DeVore and Fiorina were on equal financial footing, DeVore would be the stronger candidate. An October FEC report revealed that DeVore, having raised around $700,000, had blown through all but $60,000 of it. DeVore argues that this is more than previous candidates against Boxer have raised; other Republicans look at that as more proof that Fiorina’s potential to raise millions of dollars is another reason to back her. (When one blogger suggested that DeVore’s low fundraising numbers ruled him out as a serious candidate, he dove into the comment section to