Carly Fiorina dropped out of the presidential contest on Wednesday, after scoring just 4% of votes in New Hampshire’s Republican primary.
“While I suspend my candidacy today, I will continue to travel this country and fight for those Americans who refuse to settle for the way things are and a status quo that no longer works for them,” the former Hewlett-Packard executive said in a statement.
Fiorina and her husband, Frank, made the decision on Wednesday afternoon, a campaign source told MSNBC.
The decision came as something of a surprise: Fiorina’s campaign announced yesterday that the candidate planned to skip the Feb. 20 South Carolina primary to focus instead on campaigning in Nevada whose contest is on Feb. 23. There they’d reserved $1 million in television advertising.
Fiorina and her top backers have long insisted she was running a 50-state strategy, and would wait for the large primary field to winnow down before she surged. But she struggled to capitalize on the momentum she saw in early in the race following a couple of stand-out debate performances. She was polling nationally at just 2% or 3% going into the New Hampshire primary.
The death knell for Fiorina’s candidacy came when she was excluded from the debates and instead relegated to the so-called undercard encounters that received little voter attention. She was kept out of the ABC News debate – the last before New Hampshire’s primary last Saturday –even though she’d actually accrued more votes in Iowa than some rivals who earned a spot on the stage due to stronger polling numbers. On Wednesday, CBS News announced they’d only allow the top five candidates in the race to debate in South Carolina, leaving the only woman in the race out yet again.
The debate stage was where Fiorina excelled. In August, Fiorina participated in her first undercard debate and wowed many political observers. Her scathing condemnation of Donald Trump in that forum was later replayed in front of the main stage debaters, and the surge in polling she saw after it got her promoted to the main stage in September.
The arena also presented her with pitfalls. She routinely made declarative statements that would later turn out to be untrue. She championed deceptively edited videos that attacked Planned Parenthood, and infamously condemned a scene from the videos that did not exist. She decried women’s job losses under President Obama in another debate, only to have to later correct herself as the number proved to be misleading – the same misleading number 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney had used and been corrected for in the last cycle.
Fiorina campaigned relentlessly in the four early states, packing town halls and Iowa State Fair visits and answering thousands of questions during nine months of campaigning, but by December her star began to fade.
Campaigning across South Carolina that month, she was clearly treading water despite her strength on the debate stage. It’s a paradox that would eventually end her campaign.
Fiorina campaigned hard up until the end: she did a half dozen events on primary day in New Hampshire, including three stops at polling locations.
Just after 10 a.m., Fiorina’s RV pulled into a Bedford, New Hampshire polling site. Moments before, dozens of reporters had run haphazardly across the slushy parking lot to catch a glimmer of the then-surging Marco Rubio entering the polling site creating a mob so large it stopped traffic at one point.
But as Fiorina drove up, this reporter stood alone waiting for her.
A few cameramen later joined, shooting footage of the candidate as she walked into the polling site to greet poll workers. She firmly deflected questions about how she would keep campaigning after New Hampshire despite her low polls and exclusion from the debate stage.
“When I started I was 17 out of 16,” Fiorina said firmly, walking briskly towards the polling site. “We’re going all the way.”
It’s a line Fiorina has said a lot over the last nine months; back in September at her peak, it spoke to big dreams and an underdog’s rise. But on a chilly primary day in February, it seemed more a repeated talking point. Walking through the polling place, Fiorina shook hands with a woman who greeted her.
“Thank you for your support!” she said, beaming and shaking the woman’s hand.
But after she walked away, Michelle Flynn, 51, admitted that she hadn’t voted for her after all.
“I voted for Rubio,” she admitted in hushed tones. “I love her platform, I just felt like where she was polling she was fighting upstream so hard.”