California’s Fiorina Asserts Accountability to Voters, Not GOP

BY Judy Woodruff  October 27, 2010 at 6:30 PM EDT

Quick: Which Republican running for the U.S. Senate is telling anyone who’ll listen: “I don’t owe the Republican Party a thing … I will be accountable to the voters … because they are the ones that will send me to Washington, D.C., not a party.”

Hint: This is a state where Republicans are outnumbered in voter registration by Democrats, 31 to 44 percent (another 20 percent “decline to state” a party).

Carly Fiorina attends primary election night party; Photo by David McNew/Getty ImagesGive up? It’s Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO who’s trying to unseat California third term Democrat Barbara Boxer in a state that hasn’t sent a Republican to the Senate in more than 20 years.

Fiorina is doing surprisingly well considering her conservative positions: She is anti-abortion, supports letting states drill offshore for oil and permitting the sale of assault weapons, and favors the Arizona anti-immigration law. But she tries to drive home her independence from the GOP with ads trumpeting that she is “prepared to oppose my party when it’s wrong.” On the stump and on TV, she declares the first thing she’ll do when she gets to Washington is knock on the door of California’s other senator, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, to work on water supply issues for the state’s agricultural areas.

Reporters asked Feinstein about this when she campaigned for Boxer a couple days ago. With her colleague standing next to her, Feinstein waved off the question, saying she supports the candidate whose campaign she is chairing. The water issue Fiorina refers to, she added, is “technical” with many legal and other issues to be worked out.

I raised the subject with Fiorina when I interviewed her this week, noting that since President Obama was elected, Republicans have almost always voted in lockstep on the highest profile issues. GOP senators who’ve strayed have either been headed for retirement, or have withstood heavy pressure from their party leadership to stay on the reservation.

On votes like health care reform, financial regulatory reform, tax breaks for small business and extending unemployment benefits, Republicans have either hung together or seen bare handfuls of defections.

Fiorina insisted that party line votes in Washington, orchestrated by what she calls “career politicians of both parties,” are the reason voters want change. She said she opposed the GOP on extending unemployment benefits, and her campaign later sent a list of additional issues on which she parts company with most Republicans, including stem cell research, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and a new START nuclear weapons treaty.

Right now, polls show Fiorina is running several points behind Boxer, but she’s keeping the race competitive. If she does come to Washington, it will be interesting to watch how Senate GOP leaders react to any independent streak she exhibits.

Adding to all this, Fiorina was released from the hospital Wednesday after being treated for an infection related to a reconstructive surgery needed after her 2009 battle with breast cancer. Her chief of staff says that she is “excited to get back on the campaign trail.”

Watch Judy’s full report on the California senate race on Thursday’s NewsHour and follow her on Twitter here.