Carly Fiorina edges right on some hot-button issues

The new star of the GOP field, Carly Fiorina, has shifted emphasis on a few hot-button issues since her unhappy first outing in electoral politics, when she lost by 10 percentage points in a bid to oust incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif) in 2010.

The Golden State’s voters are famously liberal and Fiorina — to her credit, in the eyes of many conservatives  — didn’t moderate her positions to cater to their sensibilities.

But while many of her current positions remain similar to her 2010 platform, she’s staked out a spot further to the right on issues including abortion and immigration. And, on both topics, there has been a noticeable hardening of her rhetoric.

The former Hewlett Packard CEO’s stock is rising fresh off a strong performance at this week’s GOP presidential debate.

Fiorina’s biggest applause line of the debate came from a robust denouncement of the controversial Planned Parenthood videos, and of Democratic politicians who support the group.

“I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes,” she said about the videos recently released by an anti-abortion group. 

“Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain. This is about the character of our nation, and if we will not stand up and force President Obama to veto this bill, shame on us.” 

While some critics pointed out that the graphic scene she described doesn’t appear in the publicly-released videos, Fiorina said Friday on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that the scene she described was characteristic of what is occurring and that she’s seen the images she referenced. 

“Rest assured that human lives are being aborted, fully formed, in order to harvest body parts. Rest assured that this erodes at the character of our nation,” she said. 

But even though Fiorina was also emphatically opposed to abortion during the 2010 bid, her rhetoric on the issue was notably softer. During a debate two months before the election, she framed the issue as one of states’ rights and showed deference to the voters.

“I am a strong believer in states’ rights, I think voters’ have to make some of these very difficult decisions,” she said.

“I am prepared to trust the voters’ judgment on offshore drilling, I am prepared to trust the voters’ judgment on the right to choose.”

Just a few minutes before, she also said that she was open to certain types of stem cell research.

“I am comfortable with federal funding for adult stem cell research, which shows more promise according to many scientists. And I’ve also been very clear in saying if embryos were going to be destroyed in any event, that I have no trouble with research,” she said.

“It is when embryos are produced for the purposes of destruction, for the purposes of stem cell research that I have a great deal of difficulty.”

A Fiorina spokeswoman did not comment on Fiorina’s current views on abortion as a states’ rights issue, nor on stem cell research.

Julie Soderlund, Fiorina’s deputy campaign manager during the Senate campaign who is not involved with her presidential bid,told The Hill that there won’t be “any dispute” about Fiorina’s pro-life chops, as she’s been “clear since the beginning that she’s strongly pro-life.” 

She added that the Senate campaign “proactively engaged” on the topic despite the challenges of running as a candidate opposed to abortion in a deep blue state. 

“We did not choose to sort of answer the question and move on, we tried to engage,” Soderlund said. 

“Carly is consistent in engaging the opposition on that issue in a pretty robust way.”

Fiorina has also shifted emphasis regarding her support of the DREAM Act, the name collectively given to measures at both the federal and state level that would provide legal status and a pathway to citizenship for children brought to America illegally by their parents.

“I would support the DREAM Act because I don’t believe we can punish children who through no fault of their own are here trying to live the American dream,” she said in 2010, before adding that she does not support “amnesty” for those in America illegally.

Fiorina still supports the DREAM Act, lauding it on a campaign swing through Iowa in August, according to NBC.

But she told Yahoo in May that America must prioritize securing the border first -- any action taken before that would only make matters worse.

That shift is not unlike that of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Fiorina’s presidential rival who previously supported a comprehensive immigration reform package that included a pathway to citizenship, but now argues that securing the border must come first.

Fiorina can, nonetheless, offer an effective rebuttal to those who would say that she has changed tone to appeal to a more conservative electorate in the GOP primary.  In some cases she has actually moved toward the center, while on a number of issues, there is no discernible change at all.

On same-sex marriage, for example, Fiorina wanted a constitutional amendment enshrining the principle that marriage was between one man and one woman during the 2010 race, while she did support civil unions. She also objected when a judge in California struck down Proposition 8, a same-sex marriage ban that had been passed by plebiscite in 2008.

These days, Fiorina makes plain her disagreement with the Supreme Court decision, in June of this year, that legalized same-sex marriage. But she appears to have, in effect, given up the fight, accepting there is no realistic chance of an amendment to reverse the high court’s stance.

Meanwhile, her positions the Affordable Care Act, and on the general fiscal principles that would underpin her economic policies have remained essentially unchanged from the conservative mainsteream.

Even some Democratic strategists in the Golden State note that she made little effort to appeal to liberal Californian sensibilities.

“She was ultra-conservative,” said Garry South, a longtime Democratic strategist in California.

Noting that another Republican businesswoman, Meg Whitman, was running for the California governorship during the same election cycle South added, “Meg Whitman was the moderate. She was pro-choice, for a start, which Fiorina is not. Whitman got way too far right on immigration, pushed there by her primary opponent, but for the most part she was not a right-wing nut...Fiorina took, basically, the classic right-wing position on everything.”

Another Democratic strategist, Nathan Ballard, gave Fiorina a qualified compliment, noting that the margin of her loss to Boxer -- 10 percentage points — was substantial but not as catastrophic as might have been expected given the businesswoman’s embrace of full-on conservative positions.

“When you think of what an ideological mismatch she is with California voters, she did a pretty decent job,” Ballard said. “She is much more conservative than the average Californian voter. In California, we have a species of Republican that is socially liberal and fiscally conservative. Carly has never pretended to be a member of that species.”