Carly Fiorina wasn’t the first GOP candidate to visit the Carolina Pregnancy Center during a campaign swing through South Carolina last week. But she was the first one invited to watch a woman receive an ultrasound 17 weeks into her pregnancy.
“Wow, that shot of the spine is amazing -- how well-developed it is,” Fiorina remarked, looking up at the ultrasound screen as she stood beside expectant mother Lacey Thomas, who lay outstretched on a hospital bed with her stomach exposed as the wooshing sound of her baby’s heartbeat filled the room.
“It’s good when people know this is what 17 weeks looks like,” Fiorina told Thomas and praised the work of the center that aims to dissuade women with unexpected pregnancies from seeking an abortion.
As the only woman GOP presidential candidate in the race -- and now a serious contender for the nomination with rising poll numbers following strong performances in the two Republican debates -- Fiorina occupies a unique space with the 2016 contest.
"[Whether] or not you're ready to ... support me, in your heart of hearts every single one of you know you would love to see me debate Hillary Clinton," Fiorina has told audiences from the stump.
And while Fiorina is quick to tell voters she is not asking for their support on the basis of her gender but her qualifications, her gender identity serves as a contrast with the only other woman in the race.
Fiorina regularly lodges scathing attacks in Clinton’s direction, accusing the Democratic frontrunner of having “blood on her hands” over the attack in Benghazi and calling her a liar.
“Mrs. Clinton’s record is very clear, she has lied about Benghazi ... she’s lied about her emails, she’s lied about her server, and she does not have a track record of accomplishment,” Fiorina told reporters during a campaign stop in South Carolina. “Those are the facts, and I’m going to run this campaign on the facts.”
Her female identity doesn’t only draw contrasts with Clinton but the entire Democratic Party, allowing her to hit on hot-button, wedge issues in a way that no other GOP candidate can. She refers to the term “war on women” with disdain and has made her opposition to abortion a centerpiece of her campaign.
“As a woman, I have to say I find it quite insulting when Democrats talk about women’s issues,” Fiorina recently told a group of women in South Carolina. “We’re half the nation ... in fact we’re 53 percent of voters, so we’re not a special interest group, we’re the majority of the nation.”
And in what has become a breakout moment of her candidacy in the last debate, Fiorina dared President Obama and Hillary Clinton to watch the undercover videos released by the anti-abortion group, Center for Medical Progress, against Planned Parenthood and claimed that one of the videos showed “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.”
As fact-checkers soon pointed out, none of the videos showed the scene Fiorina described. Meanwhile, Fiorina has only dug in on her comment -- insisting that her comment is accurate -- and accusing the media of bias for not also taking issue with a comment made by Hillary Clinton on late-term abortions, which Fiorina has called a lie.
Asked on CBS’ “Face the Nation” last Sunday if she supports late-term abortions, Clinton said that “the kind of late-term abortions that take place are because of medical necessity, and therefore, I would hate to see the government interfering with that decision.”
Fiorina is calling Clinton’s answer a lie on the basis that late-term abortions are not exclusively performed out of medical necessity.
“Mrs. Clinton ... made this statement that the only time late-term abortion is performed is to protect the life of the mother or for a health issue,” Fiorina said. “I have not seen a single member of the media call her a liar and yet that is a lie, we know it is a lie."
It is just one of Fiorina’s latest attacks on Clinton, and one which she is particularly adept to make because of the obvious fact that she is a woman.
And though Fiorina does not overtly hedge her gender as an issue in her candidacy, the tone of a number of her campaign stops -- including an address to the Greenville Republican Women Club and a breakfast chat with young women at Converse College on Thursday -- appeal to a gender-based audience.
And she does not shy from discussing the unique barriers she faced rising up in her career to eventually run a Fortune 500 company.
“Coming up in a man’s world in technology was hard sometimes. My very first business meeting was held in a strip club, that was awkward, really awkward,” Fiorina told a town hall in South Carolina. “When I finally became a boss for the first time, my new boss introduced me to my new subordinates as, ‘This is Carly Fiorina, she’s our token bimbo.’”
And in addressing a group of young woman of Converse College who had asked Fiorina for advice for thriving in male-dominated professional world, Fiorina offered words of inspiration.
“Do not let others define you,” she told the students. “There are people you will meet along your way who are going to see your potential, they’re going to take a chance on you, they will lift you up. Run to the people who lift you up. Don’t let the people who want to bring you down -- and they’re out there, men and women -- don’t let them get in your head, don’t let them give you a chip on your shoulder.”
Among the group of students who came to meet Fiorina at Converse College was Taylor Casey, an African-American 21-year-old woman and a Hillary Clinton supporter. Though she left the encounter with her allegiance to Clinton still very much intact, Casey said she wouldn’t mind seeing Fiorina become Clinton’s opponent in the general election.
“Anyone being a female is just icing on top of the cake for me,” Casey said. “I would like to see both of them together as nominees. In a perfect world, we would have a woman either way.”