Dark horse no longer so dark

Former+Hewlett+Packard+CEO+Carly+Fiorina+watches+a+speech+being+given+on+a+screen+during+the+Lincoln+Dinner+in+Des+Moines+on+Saturday%2C+May+16%2C+2015.+Fiorina+was+cut+off+during+her+speech+as+she+ran+over+her+time+allotted+to+the+dismay+of+most+in+attendance+who+voiced+their+displeasure+in+her+abrupt+and+forced+conclusion.+%28The+Daily+Iowan%2FSergio+Flores%29
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Dark horse no longer so dark

Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina watches a speech being given on a screen during the Lincoln Dinner in Des Moines on Saturday, May 16, 2015. Fiorina was cut off during her speech as she ran over her time allotted to the dismay of most in attendance who voiced their displeasure in her abrupt and forced conclusion. (The Daily Iowan/Sergio Flores)

Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina watches a speech being given on a screen during the Lincoln Dinner in Des Moines on Saturday, May 16, 2015. Fiorina was cut off during her speech as she ran over her time allotted to the dismay of most in attendance who voiced their displeasure in her abrupt and forced conclusion. (The Daily Iowan/Sergio Flores)

Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina watches a speech being given on a screen during the Lincoln Dinner in Des Moines on Saturday, May 16, 2015. Fiorina was cut off during her speech as she ran over her time allotted to the dismay of most in attendance who voiced their displeasure in her abrupt and forced conclusion. (The Daily Iowan/Sergio Flores)

Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina watches a speech being given on a screen during the Lincoln Dinner in Des Moines on Saturday, May 16, 2015. Fiorina was cut off during her speech as she ran over her time allotted to the dismay of most in attendance who voiced their displeasure in her abrupt and forced conclusion. (The Daily Iowan/Sergio Flores)

Quentin Misiag, [email protected]

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When operatives of Our American Revival, the Super PAC supporting Scott Walker, opened an office in a heavily Republican area of suburban Des Moines in early February, news began circulating that the two-term Wisconsin governor was going to run for president.

Sure enough, five months later, the bullish, union-fighting conservative jumped in.

RELATED: Meet the people in Joe Biden’s Iowa arsenal

Fiorina graphic Fast-forward another two months, and Walker’s once-promising political glow quickly dimmed out amid a lack of money, effectively becoming the second Republicancasualty this cycle.

But then there’s Carly Fiorina.

The transplanted California conservative doesn’t have a single office here.

Her campaign has taken flight recently, and she has moved from a dark-horse option to real challenger to not only GOP front-runner Donald Trump but to naysayers of establishment Republicans and Democrats, supporters and experts told The Daily Iowan in a series of interviews.

“She has struck a cord with me with her conservative toughness. I like her stand on almost every issue,” said Cathy Grawe, a 20-year Republican strategist who worked on the presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney, former President George W. Bush, Sen. John McCain, and Sarah Palin.

Most recently, she tried to whip up support in the Iowa City area for Joni Ernst, who won the Senate election in 2014 (though not in the Iowa City area).

“[Fiorina] reminds me of Margaret Thatcher,” Grawe said.

State Auditor Mary Mosiman, an ally of the Republican Party of Iowa and Gov. Terry Branstad, said she will not endorse any candidate. But in an interview this week, Mosiman had nothing but good things to say about Fiorina.

“I have called Carly a self-made woman,” Mosiman said, noting that the candidate is competent, confident and professional.

The two met shortly before the 2014 midterm election, which Mosiman won.

RELATED: Iowa political watchers: Fiorina, Christie, Rubio excel in first CNN main debate

Iowa political watchers penciled Fiorina in as one of three “winners” from the latest GOP presidential debate, Sept. 16, alongside New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

Prior to that debate, she was either the first or second-most-searched candidate in 18 Iowa counties, according to Google search traffic data. After the debate, that number more than doubled to 44 counties.

Fiorina’s 2016 campaign is her first major political play since losing a bruising 2010 U.S. Senate race in California, 52 percent to 42 percent.

Her cash-rich Super PAC, CARLY for America, has done much of the heavy lifting in Iowa. Three staffers have been hired post-debate with another three more positions open, Fiorina’s Iowa strategist, Christopher Rants of Sioux City, told the DI.

Fiorina’s national campaign apparatus has chosen a more frugal approach.

In her latest visits to eastern Iowa, she traveled with a small group of aides in a small SUV. Many other candidates choose to travel by motor coach.

And before she was blitzed by Planned Parenthood supporters in a Sept. 26 tailgate before the Iowa-North Texas football game, she opted to climb aboard the Hawkeye Express train instead of driving the 3.6 mile route.

Some have called Fiorina’s approach to winning over Iowa caucus-goers untested. But experts interviewed for this story refuted that claim.

Republican presidential candidate, businesswoman Carly Fiorina speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015, in Simi Valley, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Republican presidential candidate, businesswoman Carly Fiorina speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum on Sept. 16, 2015, in Simi Valley, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

“It’s not unorthodox; she’s just a product of moving up in the polls,” said Christopher Larimer, an associate professor of political science at the University of Northern Iowa who studies political behavior and state political movements. “All of a sudden, the organization has to catch up.”

RELATED: Four GOP White House hopefuls to headline Northwest Iowa rally

For Larimer and other political wonks, that means flying into Iowa more, opening offices, snatching up presidential precinct caucus captains and support from county party heads, and doubling down on hiring more ground-game organizers. All before the Feb.1 Iowa caucuses.

“If it becomes as though the candidate is allowing the Super PAC to do the retail politics for them, then it becomes a major problem,” Larimer said.

Fiorina captured just 2 percentage points of support among registered voters in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The poll, conducted by landline and cell phones from Sept. 7-10 in English and Spanish with 1,003 results, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Fiorina’s recent run-ins with Planned Parenthood could also signal trouble for her, analysts warned.

The New York and Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit has immense political influence in Iowa and across the country. In addition to the group protesting Fiorina’s Iowa City stop, supporters have ramped up a social-media campaign targeting the candidate’s political history.

RELATED: Planned Parenthood pounces on Fiorina at Iowa football tailgate

Republican presidential candidate and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina walks on stage at the Iowa GOP Lincoln Dinner in Des Moines on May 16, 2015. (The Daily Iowan/Sergio Flores)

Republican presidential candidate and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina walks on stage at the Iowa GOP Lincoln Dinner in Des Moines on May 16, 2015. (The Daily Iowan/Sergio Flores)

While Fiorina would benefit from courting Iowa entrepreneurs, as Rubio will do next month in Cedar Rapids, she could see greater dividends with caucus-goers by simplifying her tech-savvy message into one with a small-business mindset, saidGayle Alberda, a visiting professor of political science at Drake University.

“Iowa’s not necessarily Silicon Valley, and being able to translate what she’s done and how she’s done it, in a way that is understood by the political masses, are really going to be important,” said Alberda, who formerly worked on the John McCain-Sarah Palin 2008 presidential campaign among a number of other state and national political operations.

“The simpler the story and the simpler the campaign scene and the more relatable it is to everyday life, the more it sticks,” she said. “Think [former President Bill] Clinton’s ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’”

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