WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican John McCain enlisted the high-profile help of Carly Fiorina, once the most powerful businesswoman in the United States, on Saturday to try to get women behind his campaign for the White House.
Arizona Sen. McCain makes no secret of his wish to attract women who backed New York Sen. Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential bid, regularly praising her and noting their work and travel together as members of the U.S. Senate.
Fiorina, a top economic adviser and head of a Republican get-out-the-vote effort, empathized with the former first lady’s experience when she took questions from across the country during a McCain campaign “virtual town-hall meeting.”
“Having started as a secretary and eventually become a chief-executive officer, I not only have great admiration and respect for Hillary Clinton and her candidacy and her leadership, but I also have great empathy, I must tell you, for what she went through,” Fiorina said.
“I also believe though, if we are striving for a gender-blind, color-blind society, that we really ought to be focused on the person that we think will make the right judgments, the right decisions and have the right positions.”
That person is John McCain, she said.
The McCain camp hopes to secure the support of independent and Democratic Clinton supporters, some of whom say they will not back the presumptive nominee Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.
Texas-born Fiorina has become an increasingly visible advocate for McCain, speaking publicly about his economic positions and ripping into Obama over tax policies and Iraq.
Fiorina became the head of Hewlett-Packard Co. in 1999 and in 2002 oversaw the then-largest merger in the U.S. technology sector when Hewlett-Packard bought rival computer maker Compaq Computer Corp. The company’s poor performance forced her exit as chairman and chief executive in 2005.
“She usually tells me what to say,” McCain quipped about Fiorina on Saturday.
In a sign of Fiorina’s growing visibility, Obama also singled her out on Saturday, accusing her of mischaracterizing his tax plans.
“Carly Fiorina was on the television the other day saying Barack Obama will not cut taxes for anybody,” he said in Wayne, Pennsylvania, adding his proposals would give every middle class family a $1,000 tax cut.
McCain went on to praise Clinton during his campaign event and promised to increase the number of women in government as president.
“I have, time after time, urged my party look, we have a lot of women who are more than qualified, more than capable of governing this country,” he said, citing Fiorina, former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor as role models.
“At the end of my first term, you will see a dramatic increase of women in every part of the government of my administration,” he said to applause.
McCain has shown some similarities with Clinton on the campaign trail. Both support lifting a tax on gasoline this summer, and have repudiated economists for panning the idea.
Obama also panned it, and some observers said the proposal hurt New York Sen. Clinton.
But McCain was quick to point out political differences with Clinton, saying he thought the Supreme Court decision in “Roe vs Wade” on abortion was a bad one.
Clinton pulled out of the race a week ago when she backed Obama and urged her supporters to do the same.
Additional reporting by Deborah Charles with Obama; editing by Todd Eastham