Hair Today, Is Fiorina Gone Tomorrow?

Fiorina button

hide captionNo longer the hair apparent?

If the cause of women in politics made great strides in Tuesday's primaries — see the results in California, Nevada, South Carolina, Maine and Iowa — then it took a sizable hit yesterday, thanks to one of those very same women.

As you may know by now, Carly Fiorina, the Republican nominee to take on Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) in California, was sitting in front of an open microphone on Thursday, scrolling through her Blackberry and waiting for an interview to start, when she said this to a staffer sitting nearby:

Laura saw Barbara Boxer briefly on television this morning and said what everyone says, 'God, what is that hair?'  Sooooo yesterday!

It's true, we talk about Jim Traficant's hair, or hairpiece, all the time.  Search "Carl Levin" and "combover" and you'll get thousands of results.  But talking about a woman's hair?  Not smart.  And, writes Jennifer Steinhauer of the New York Times, Fiorina's comments present a potentially serious political problem:

They both inform and confirm the image from her days as chief executive at Hewlett-Packard that she is tart and unpleasant. And they open the entire campaign to perceptions, however tired or unfair, that women can be dragged down the road of pettiness, perceptions that detract from the serious and pressing issues of the day.

The Fiorina campaign has employed ads to criticize her GOP primary opponent, Tom Campbell, as a "demon sheep," and portray Boxer as a hot-air blimp.  But hair, apparently, is different.  And for her to defend her comments, as she did on Fox with Greta Van Susteren, by saying it's no big deal because people talk about her hair (or lack of it — she lost it during chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer) all the time, misses the point, writes Kathleen O'Brien at the Newark Star-Ledger:

If she wanted to mention cancer in the context of why she's running for office, or how she sees health insurance policy, or really any substantive issue, alluding to her own illness would seem perfectly appropriate.

But to use it as a "Get out of jail free" card for a tacky gaffe on such a trivial issue? That, in an of itself, is tacky too.

For her part, Boxer played it cool; Rose Kapolczynski, her campaign manager, said, "Let her talk about hair; we’re talking about jobs."

But everyone else is having a field day with it.  Under the header, "Ay Carly! Meeeeoooowww!," Andy Ostroy blogs in the Huffington Post, "Fiorina's comments about Boxer weren't just about hair, they were harebrained."

The Brand X blog wonders, "Republicans have tried to paint Boxer as haughty and rude; what will they do after this politically tone-deaf gaffe from Fiorina?"

Former Democratic consultant-turned-Fox analyst Susan Estrich, writing in The Examiner, seems to blame it all on the perils of a first-time candidate:

Many former business executives who end up in political office are literally shocked by how little power they have. They're used to giving orders and having people follow them. Politics doesn't work that way. Having years of experience often helps, at least as much as it does in plumbing. And the consequences of inexperience and mistakes can be much more dangerous.

But Fiorina has been in the public eye since at least the 2008 presidential campaign, when she was constantly talking up John McCain's candidacy (and perhaps putting herself on the short list for VP).

What do you think of the Fiorina flap?

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