Fiorina's HP Mishaps Prompt Tech Executives to Back Boxer
Carly Fiorina, the former head of Hewlett-Packard Co., faces a wall of opposition from her Silicon Valley peers as she campaigns to win one of California’s U.S. Senate seats.
Her victory in the Republican primary last week puts Fiorina up against Democrat incumbent Barbara Boxer, a senator since 1993. Boxer has the financial support of local executives, including Cisco Systems Inc.’s John Chambers, Oracle Corp.’s Larry Ellison, Netflix Inc.’s Reed Hastings, and John Doerr from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
Fiorina’s inability to win the backing of technology leaders contrasts with EBay Inc.’s former chief, Meg Whitman, who’s racking up funding from Silicon Valley in the state’s gubernatorial race. Fiorina’s lack of support, even from executives such as Chambers who are known to back Republicans, may reflect misgivings about her tenure at Hewlett-Packard, which lost half its market value on her watch. It also stiffens the challenge of beating a Democrat in a Democratic state.
“It makes it a harder hill to climb for Carly,” said Jim Cunneen, who served as a Republican state assemblyman in Silicon Valley from 1994 to 2000. He’s currently a principal at political consulting firm California Strategies in San Jose. “She has a lot of work to do to reach out to independents and moderates, but also to reach out to this tech community that certainly knows her private-sector experience the best of anybody in the state.”
Fiorina, 55, aims to beat a senator who’s spent almost three decades in the house and senate working on legislation to support Silicon Valley. As of May 19, Boxer, 69, had raised $16.3 million in donations for the November election, more than double Fiorina’s $7.4 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group in Washington.
Boxer has received $229,487 from computer and Internet companies, compared with $45,550 for Fiorina, the group found.
Among voters, Boxer leads Fiorina 48 percent to 43 percent, a Rasmussen Reports poll found. The June 9 telephone survey of 500 likely voters had an error margin of plus or minus 4.5 percent. With statewide unemployment at almost 13 percent and California having the fourth-highest home-foreclosure rate in the country, the incumbent could face a challenge, Cunneen said.
“This election is really about jobs and the economy, and there aren’t many jobs and the economy is still sputtering,” said Cunneen, who previously worked for Fiorina’s primary opponent, former Congressman Tom Campbell. “Despite early returns and contributions, this will still be a very competitive race.”
Boxer’s popularity in Silicon Valley is due in part to her role as chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, where she has focused on creating clean-energy jobs and reducing carbon emissions. She’s also backed policy for the granting of more H-1B visas, which bring technology engineers to the U.S. from overseas. And in 2004 she opposed rules that forced companies to expense stock options for employees, saying it would eliminate an incentive for attracting top talent.
“Barbara has worked with our industry on critical issues impacting Silicon Valley, including education, promoting innovation, stock options and tax policies,” Chambers, Cisco’s chief executive officer and a founding member of Technology Leaders for Boxer, said in an e-mail.
Chambers, 60, often backs Republicans, including presidential candidate John McCain in 2008. In that election, Democrat Barack Obama won 61 percent of votes in California to McCain’s 37 percent. Fiorina served with Chambers on Cisco’s board from 2001 to 2003. She also was an economic adviser to McCain’s campaign.
“It isn’t surprising that a three-term incumbent senator is supported financially by many in the tech industry,” said Amy Thoma, a spokeswoman for Fiorina. “Carly enjoys a broad range of support both from the Silicon Valley and throughout the state and now that the primary has ended we expect that support to continue to grow.”
Fiorina joined Palo Alto, California-based Hewlett-Packard as CEO in 1999 after spending 20 years at AT&T Corp. and its spinoff Lucent Technologies Inc. Two years later, she orchestrated the $18.9 billion acquisition of Compaq Computer Corp. to grab a bigger piece of the personal-computer market. The strategy backfired and HP lost its lead in the industry to Dell Inc., leading to Fiorina’s ouster in 2005.
‘Lot of Animus’
“There’s a lot of animus about her business decisions at HP,” said Barbara O’Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento. “It’s mostly the Compaq decision and how she handled it.”
In the governor’s race, Whitman, 53, is having little trouble finding support in Silicon Valley. She’s challenging the state’s Democratic attorney general, Jerry Brown, for the chance to succeed Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is departing because of term limits.
The $54 million Whitman has raised this year, through May 22, trumps the $16.7 million brought in by Brown, according to data from the California Secretary of State. Her donors include Chambers, Donahoe, Yang, Otellini, Apple Inc.’s former finance chief Fred Anderson, Intuit Inc. CEO Brad Smith and Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer.
Record at EBay
Her record wasn’t without blemish. In her final years at the helm, she failed to reignite slowing sales. And a bidding war between Google Inc. and Yahoo forced Whitman to pay $2.6 billion for Skype in 2005. EBay wrote down the division’s value by $900 million in 2007 before selling it last year.
Whitman is less conservative politically than Fiorina on one key issue: abortion. Fiorina is opposed to it, while Whitman favors abortion rights. California Republicans winning statewide office in recent years -- such as Schwarzenegger and Pete Wilson, who was governor in the 1990s -- have supported abortion rights.
Whitman’s position on abortion is part of what makes her “the kind of Republican who can win in California,” said Thad Kousser, associate professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego.
For Fiorina, it’s just one more issue to overcome.