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June 9, 2010

Election Final: Carly’s Rainbow Coalition

Bryan Patrick/Sacramento Bee

Bryan Patrick/Sacramento Bee

This image of supporters celebrating Carly Fiorina’s big win in California’s Republican primary suggests that in 2010 Republicans plan to convince the electorate that red is the new black—reaching out to voters based on their genders and ethnicities. Fiorina’s campaign signs that spotlight “women,” “Asian-Americans,” Latinos,” and others invoke the 1980s rhetoric of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition that Ronald Reagan transcended and Pat Buchanan derided.  Fiorina’s campaign signage suggest that the GOP’s new normal is not to run from identity politics  but to embrace them. This messaging is reinforced by the beaming, diverse faces of Fiorina’s supporters, whom she embraces with a warmth and intimacy reminiscent of Bill  Clinton.

Notable, too, is Fiorina’s choice to follow Hillary Clinton and plaster her first name only on campaign materials. Although the “Hillary” of the ’08 campaign was seeking to unload the political baggage associated with the “Clinton” name, Fiorina’s choice could have a variety of rationales: 1) women no longer need to de-emphasize their gender by identifying with a gender-neutral last name. In this anti-incumbent environment, women candidates are reminding voters that they should hire a woman to “clean house.” 2) The name “Fiorina” is an embattled veteran of the financial pages following her infamously unsuccessful tenure at HP—better to get a fresh start with a new moniker. 3) Alliteration—“Carly for CA” is irresistibly catchy.

If Republicans have their way, the crimson tide created by this photo opportunity will roll through California and onto the White House in 2012, with GOP operatives secretly asking themselves “what would Jesse do”?

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