CONCORD, N.H.—Carly Fiorina has been campaigning in cowboy boots, and Republican front-runner Donald Trump is about to get kicked.
Wednesday night at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Fiorina will come face to face with the Republican front-runner who has attacked her record as Hewlett-Packard CEO, mocked her appearance, and declared that even the sound of her voice gives him "a massive headache." In a predebate Speakeasy interview, Fiorina warned with a chuckle: "Mr. Trump's going to be hearing quite a lot from me."
Over chicken tenders and french fries in a Concord diner, Fiorina starts by going after Trump's business record—including his acknowledgment in a court case that he sometimes exaggerated the value of his real estate assets because "Who wouldn't?"
"Donald Trump and I are in totally different businesses," she said. "He's in the entertainment business. And he's also in a privately held business.
"In the business I was in, we had to report our results publicly, as you well know, in excruciating detail, quarter after quarter after quarter," she added. "And if I misrepresented those results or those projections I could be held criminally liable. If I had done it, I could have gone to jail. Those are his standards. I think my standards are what the American people would appreciate politicians or people running for office being held to."
Fiorina also doesn't buy Trump's explanation of his involvement in bankruptcy cases by saying he was making strategic use of the law. "If you file for bankruptcy four times," she said, "I think it suggests either lack of judgment or lack of discipline."
And she hits Trump for conspicuous sexism in how he approaches her challenge as compared to those of male opponents. "Donald Trump has said many things about other candidates," Fiorina concluded. "But he has not talked about their appearance."
In some ways her aggressive posture is not surprising. A stinging line about how Trump conferred with former Democratic President Bill Clinton before entering the 2016 race helped her become the star of the first "kids' table" debate last month—generating the traction that has put her on the main stage Wednesday.
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What is surprising is how effectively she has made the transition from the business world to the presidential campaign trail, outpacing several veterans of governors' offices.
After her high-profile firing from Hewlett-Packard, Fiorina dabbled in politics as a 2008 ally of Republican nominee John McCain. The following year she was diagnosed with breast cancer, undergoing surgery and losing her hair during follow-up treatment.
But she entered the 2010 California Senate race against Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer anyway, winning the Republican nomination. And her general election defeat didn't deter her from a White House bid five years later.
Fiorina is in many ways a traditional Republican conservative, calling for cuts in both taxes and spending, blasting President Barack Obama's efforts to combat climate change, opposing abortion. She also shows a strong instinct for conventional candidate behavior, insisting she won't take a stand on the future of Social Security until she can certify that other parts of government are functioning effectively. She evokes her disciplined, on-message style at Hewlett Packard.
Yet she leans on her nontraditional background to help stand out from a crowded Republican field. And she cites her gains over the past month as proof that it's working.
"Ours was intended to be a citizen government," she said. "Here are the experiences, the skills that a president needs: an understanding of how the economy works. I have it. An understanding of how the world works and who's in it.
"I have more foreign policy, world-leader experience than anyone running as a Republican," she added. "An understanding of how bureaucracies work and how to cut them down to size. An understanding of how technology works, pretty important now. It's a tool and a weapon. And an understanding of leadership.
Fiorina concluded: "I believe I am the most qualified candidate running in either party to be president of the United States. And I think more and more voters are starting to agree with me."