Citizen Carly: Fiorina Hits the Big Screen

Image: Carly Fiorina Campaigns In South Carolina
Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina speaks to voters during a town hall meeting at the Ocean Reef Convention Center September 22, 2015 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.Sean Rayford / Getty Images

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By Alexandra Jaffe

Coming soon to theaters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina: "Citizen Carly," a campaign ad-cum-documentary from the pro-Carly Fiorina super PAC that premiered Tuesday night.

The super PAC offered a screening of the film for about 100 supporters and a handful of reporters at a movie theater in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., on Tuesday night, with all the trappings of a real movie-going experience: buckets of popcorn, bags of candy and sticky theater floors.

And the hour-long film itself had many hallmarks of a real Hollywood feature: Slick production values, a dramatic storyline and even narration from James Woods, the actor who recently endorsed the GOP presidential contender.

“Citizen Carly” aims, as super PAC adviser Keith Appell put it, to “get people acquainted with Carly on a much more intimate level” than they’ve seen her during debates and campaign stops. It does so by weaving childhood pictures, home movies and press clippings together along with interviews with Fiorina, her family and former coworkers about the highs and lows of Fiorina’s life.

Fiorina herself recounts falling in love with her husband Frank, grinning at their courtship and meeting his big Italian family. Later on in the film, that emotion turns bittersweet as her voice cracks while she recounts how Frank made “a million grilled cheese sandwiches” for her during her chemotherapy treatments, "because sometimes that’s all I could eat."

But the storyline that gets the most screen time is Fiorina’s rise and fall in the business world, from a low-level manager at AT&T to CEO of Hewlett-Packard before being forced out amidst the company’s growing financial struggles.

“That’s what people need to know the most about, because her experience, her achievements, are so central to what qualify her for president,” Appell said.

But it’s also drawn the most scrutiny since she launched her bid for president, and that interest has only intensified since Fiorina emerged the clear winner of last week’s GOP primary debate. Appell acknowledged that the super PAC film was aimed partly at making Fiorina’s case on her business record.

“There has been a tendency to discuss her business record through the eyes of those that are critical — and there are lots of people, as you saw in this movie, that are quite laudatory,” he said. “I think all we really care about is that people get to hear all sides, is that people get to get a full picture."

The ad outlines a number of H-P’s financial achievements under Fiorina’s watch, but focuses particularly on the company’s merger with Compaq and Fiorina’s eventual firing. Critics have pointed to both — the merger having ultimately been a financial misstep for the company — as pockmarks on her business career and evidence of her poor management abilities.

One of her primary defenders from her days at H-P, former board member Tom Perkins, plays a prominent role in the ad, declaring at the outset of the film that “not only did she act, but she insisted upon being fired — rather than some wishy-washy resignation over a period of time.”

Fiorina has adamantly defended her business record on the campaign trail, and it seems “Citizen Carly” offers the candidate one more forum to establish her defense.

Because of laws barring coordination between super PACs and the candidates they support, Fiorina had minimal editorial control over the film — but she was, notably, interviewed for it. Those sit-downs took place before Fiorina officially launched her campaign, according to super PAC spokesperson said.

It’s not the first such example of Fiorina testing the bounds of federal campaign laws — her super PAC has undertaken many traditional campaign activities, like staffing events and organizing an early-state field infrastructure for the candidate. And Appell, the adviser, said more may be to come.

“We will evaluate how this goes,” he said. “I anticipate, if this is received well, we’ll do a good bit more of it."

Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina speaks to voters during a town hall meeting at the Ocean Reef Convention Center September 22, 2015 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.Sean Rayford / Getty Images