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Carly Fiorina announces her GOP candidacy for U.S. Senate

November 4, 2009 | 12:35 pm

Me2_kslqvonc Former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate in the California Republican primary, arguing that her business experience made her the only viable candidate to challenge Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer.

"If it isn't obvious to you by now, let me make it official today: I am a candidate to serve you as your U.S. senator,” Fiorina said, speaking to a small gathering of supporters in the Garden Grove warehouse of Earth Friendly Products, which makes green home products like phosphate-free detergent.

Fiorina, whose hair was shorn close to her scalp after a nine-month battle with breast cancer, said she expected the race to get ugly. "I have to say, after chemotherapy, Barbara Boxer just isn't that scary," she said. "She has always taken the low road to higher office, so get ready. But it's OK, I can take a punch and I can throw a punch."

The Republican candidate called for smaller government, decreased spending and increased transparency. She pledged not to raise taxes and decried the "rabid partisanship" in Washington. She excoriated Boxer's legislative record and said the Democrat's positions have killed jobs in California.

Boxer has the edge in Democratic-leaning California, but Fiorina's entry means the race will be among the most closely watched in the nation. The charismatic former business leader could be Boxer's greatest challenge since her election to the Senate in 1992. But that's if Fiorina emerges the victor in what is likely to be a bruising Republican primary.

She announced her candidacy in Orange County, home turf of the conservative assemblyman who is her only challenger in the primary. The battle between Fiorina and Chuck Devore (R-Irvine) reflects a greater ideological debate that is dividing Republicans across the nation, and led to the loss of a Republican House seat in upstate New York on Tuesday.

Devore, 47, is a long-term conservative who is well-known in state GOP circles, but has little name recognition across the state and may not have the financial wherewithal to fully compete against Fiorina. Fiorina, 54, has no elective experience but is viewed by some as the strategic choice who would have a better chance taking on Boxer because of her more moderate views and her deep pockets. Fiorina has vast personal wealth -- her HP severance alone exceeded $21 million after six rocky years as chief executive.

But upheaval during her tenure at the company, a spotty voting record and her new arrival to politics make some wary of her. Democrats seized on these issues to paint Fiorina as an inept businesswoman who got rich off the backs of workers, and as out of touch with ordinary people.

"The last thing Californians need in a U.S. senator is a failed CEO who was fired by her last employer after taking $100 million for herself," said John Burton, chairman of the California Democratic Party. Fiorina today said critics are mischaracterizing her resume, and that her work at HP laid the foundation for the company's current success.

She said her business background and lack of political experience make her a D.C. outsider and only "viable" Republican challenger. She also has repeatedly apologized for not voting but also explained it was because she felt unconnected to politicians. "Shame on me," she said.

--Seema Mehta in Garden Grove

Photo: Carly Fiorina, center, takes a tour with Earth Friendly Products Vice President Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks at a town hall meeting at Earth Friendly Products in Garden Grove. Credit: Christine Cotter / Los Angeles Times