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Carly Fiorina champions feminism as Republican cause

Carly Fiorina, former chairman and chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard Co. and 2016 U.S. presidential candidate, speaks during the inaugural Roast and Ride in Boone, June 6, 2015. (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty)
Carly Fiorina, former chairman and chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard Co. and 2016 U.S. presidential candidate, speaks during the inaugural Roast and Ride in Boone, June 6, 2015. 

Carly Fiorina claimed feminism as a conservative cause on Thursday, in a lengthy speech designed to rally women behind her campaign – and away from Hillary Clinton’s.

“It’s been 95 years since women got the right to vote. Fifty years since "The Feminine Mystique." Sixteen years since I was named the first female CEO of a Fortune 50 company,” she said at a dinner in Washington D.C. Liberals’ “version of feminism isn’t working. It’s time for a new definition.”

In Thursday’s address, Fiorina painted herself as a trailblazer while arguing that her stance on issues like equal pay, the economy, and birth control are better for women – and more feminist. The speech not only furthers Fiorina's all-out war on Clinton, but it goes farther than any leading Republican in terms of championing feminism and flipping Democrats' narrative that the GOP is at war with women on its head. 

RELATED: Carly Fiorina offers up detailed financials

Fiorina is barely registering in national polls, but she's been impressing voters in the early-voting state of Iowa and as the party's lone female running for the White House, it's speeches like this one that may help boost her numbers and her following. 

“A feminist is a woman who lives the life she chooses. We will have arrived when every woman can decide for herself how to best find and use her God-given gifts. A woman may choose to have five children and home-school them. She may choose to become a CEO or to become a candidate,” she said. “I am a conservative because I know we are all equal in the eyes of God – men and women. Our principles work better to lift men and women up.”

Fiorina slammed liberals' brand of feminism as she sought to claim it for conservatives.

"Feminism has devolved into a left-leaning political ideology where women are pitted against men and used as a political weapon to win elections," she said. "If you are a man—or a woman—who doesn’t believe the litanies of the Left, then you are 'waging a war on women' or you are a 'threat to women’s health' or you are variously described as 'window dressing' —Joni Ernst—or offensive as a candidate—Carly Fiorina."

Fiorina argued that overarching deregulation and free market principles – like curbing union’s power and promoting school choice -- will better improve women’s lives. She also took a quick swipe at equal pay, one of her biggest liabilities with women who widely support it.

“Despite it already being law, the Left wants to further legislate equal pay. And yet the Left also support seniority systems in government and unions that reward not merit but time and grade. We know these systems have perverse consequences,” she said. 

It’s here where Fiorina’s weaknesses on women's rights appear: In addition to opposing equal pay legislation that would make it harder for employers to pay men more than women, she opposes mandating paid maternity leave, too. 

Fiorina staunchly opposes abortion, except in instances of rape, incest, or to save the mother’s life (though she’s also supported legislation that would force women to fill out a police report before getting that abortion, the Democratic National Committee noted Thursday). She addresses this position by highlighting her commitment to over-the-counter birth control -- and slamming Democrats who aren't in favor of it. 

“While the Left fights to protect late term abortions and sues the Little Sisters of the Poor to enforce Obamacare mandates, they oppose over-the-counter birth control,” she said. “It is time for over-the-counter birth control, which will drive down prices and increase availability.”

Democrats have opposed Republican efforts to champion over the counter birth control, because they say it will eventually force women to pay for contraception again, which became free under Obamacare. 

Fiorina's address -- which also lobbies against out-of-wedlock births and welfare programs "that are trapping women" -- is deeply rooted in the kind of self-reliance policies conservatives like to champion, but it's clear that Fiorina is hoping her own secretary-to-CEO story will give it new legs. 

"My story -- from secretary to CEO is only possible in this country," she said. "Let us ensure that this nation, in this, the 21st century, is a nation in which every person knows they can choose a life of dignity, purpose, and meaning. Let us together aim high and encourage every boy -- and every girl -- to do the same."