Fiorina, Carson jostling to move into the top tier

The Southern Republican Leadership Conference (SRLC) kicked off this week in Oklahoma City and many of the GOP presidential hopefuls were on hand to make their pitch. Two of them in particular caught the notice of the political reporting class as well as the attendees. Carly Fiorina gave a very well received stem winder which had the crowd on their feet, and rather than going after her fellow primary contenders, her sights were set on the Democrats’ presumptive nominee.

GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina on Saturday accused President Obama and his former secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, of poorly representing America’s interests on the world stage.

“The world is a dangerous and tragic place when America is not leading,” Fiorina told the crowd at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Oklahoma City. “Nowhere is leadership more important now than in the world.”…

“Hillary Clinton must not be the president of these United States,” she said.

“She must not be president of the United States as she is not trustworthy and does not have a record of leadership,” Fiorina added.

Fiorina repeated earlier campaign vows that she would make herself more publicly accessible than her possible Democratic opponent.

“Since I launched my campaign for the presidency less than three weeks ago, I have answered about 413 questions from the press, and yes, I am counting,” she said. “Hillary Clinton, I think, has answered 13 questions now since April 12.”

“We know that Hillary Clinton will not be held to account unless we have a nominee that holds her to account in the general election,” she added.

Fiorina is keeping with a familiar theme which she established right out of the gate. In an era when the media is still more than willing to double down on the entire “Republican War on Women” meme, Fiorina has staked out a space where she can attack Hillary Clinton with abandon on every issue under the sun and even the most liberal journalists are hesitant to play the gender card against her. She’s also continuing to hammer on Clinton’s complete lack of credentials or significant accomplishments during her years in the public eye, while highlighting her own experience on both the domestic front and foreign relations. It’s too early to say how much this may move the needle, but Fiorina certainly seems to be in this thing to win it.’

Meanwhile, at the same conference, the straw poll winner was neurosurgeon Ben Carson, and it really wasn’t even a close call.

Presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson won the presidential straw poll at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference on Saturday with 25.4% of the vote — a cherry on the sundae for the candidate, who also scored a last-minute time slot upgrade when he replaced Sen. Ted Cruz as the gala event’s headline speaker.

It certainly is a big upgrade if you get to “replace” Ted Cruz, but this wasn’t because the conference organizers suddenly took a dim view of the Texas senator. Both Cruz and Marco Rubio had to cancel their speeches when they were held up in DC for a weekend vote on the NSA. That opened the door for Carson to take the prime speaking position and it looks like it paid off in straw poll votes.

Carson has stumbled repeatedly since getting into the race and as we’ve been taking the temperature of the conservative readers here there seems to be diminished confidence that he’s the guy who can carry the ball into the end zone for the GOP. Everyone seems to agree that he’s a great guy with solid values and he’s clearly smart as a whip, but his inexperience in the electoral lion’s den is showing on a regular basis. Too many of those mistakes may open the door a bit too wide for the Democrats, but who knows? With a bit more fine tuning of his campaign team he may still break through.

We’ve got a couple of months left for the lower tier candidates to start ringing up the numbers they will need to qualify for a podium at the main debates or attract the attention of donors and undecided voters. The SRLC is only one of many such venues where these folks can fine tune their message and keep their hopes alive.