MASON CITY, Iowa – A week after her breakout debate performance, Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina is drawing bigger crowds, more buzz and greater scrutiny – most recently on vaccinations.
Roughly 200 people turned up on a Friday morning to this town’s local library to greet the former Hewlett-Packard executive. Parking was scarce, chairs quickly filled up, and remaining attendees crowded the aisles leaning against walls and sitting on the floor to hear Fiorina speak.
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Attendees told msnbc they’d been impressed by her performance in the Fox News “happy hour” debate of seven, lower-tier presidential hopefuls including former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Fiorina’s strong showing helped helped bump her standing in several new polls, possibly giving her a chance to break the top ten invited to the next debate hosted by CNN on Sept. 16.
“I watched those debates the other night and I thought she just flattened them all!” Mark Dawson, 73, told msnbc. “I turned to a couple people that were with me during that debate and said, ‘finally!’”
“Going into the debates I was a Scott Walker fan. After seeing her in the first debate, Carly was overwhelming and that’s why I’m here today,” Ron Rachut told msnbc. “Marco Rubio in the second debate impressed me, so right now I’m kind of weighing back and forth … but if it came down to Hillary and a Republican candidate, Carly would just shred her to pieces.”
Still, Fiorina’s newfound prominence brings an added layer of examination of her views.
On Thursday night, Fiorina told another Iowa crowd that she supported parents who didn’t want to vaccinate their children (adding that she also supported public school’s right to deny those kids education).
"When in doubt, it is always the parents' choice,” Fiorina said – expressing a view roundly rejected among public health experts.
Fiorina saw a slew of negative headlines and for her comment, as did another Republican hopeful, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, when he expressed similar views on vaccinations earlier this year. He eventually announced he’d changed his mind and said he supported mandatory vaccinations.
Fiorina defended her position on Friday, criticizing reporters.
“The state law is really clear on this stuff and I don’t understand why the media keeps turning it into controversy,” she told msnbc. “People who have true religious convictions are protected. State law says a school for instance can prevent a child who hasn’t been vaccinated from going to school and I believe fundamentally parents have a choice. There is nothing new about that, there is no new ground.”
In California, where Fiorina ran for Senate, Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed the nation’s strictest mandatory vaccination law. Fiorina lost her challenge to California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer in 2010 by a 10-point margin.