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Fiorina talks big ideas to small crowd

Give Carly Fiorina credit for choosing the most awesome political venue of any candidate so far in the race.

On Monday morning, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO showed up to shake hands and answer a few voters questions in the darkened confines of the venerable Fireside Lounge of the Peppermill on the Strip.

Any politician on the stump can show up in a ballroom, a soccer stadium or even the median on the street in front of the Trump hotel. But neon lights, low-slung couches and a bubbling fire pit? Nothing screams Las Vegas more, even if they did cover up the bartop slot machines. (I’ll bet Fiorina appreciates Double Double Bonus stakes as much as the next person!)

Yes, the crowd was slim, even accounting for the fact that it was 8 a.m. on a Monday morning (and the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday as well). But Fiorina belted out her stump lines like she was a veteran songstress in Las Vegas’ biggest showroom. (In the last debate, shrinking poll numbers bumped her to the hourlong “junior varsity” stage.)

If she was panicking, she certainly wasn’t showing it, explaining to reporters why President Barack Obama shouldn’t get credit for the return of American detainees held by Iran, praising Nevada’s new Education Savings Accounts program and why she’s still against granting citizenship to illegal immigrants, even if that might hurt her with Nevada Hispanic voters.

“Why are we settling for a professional political class of both parties that says whatever they need to say to get elected?” Fiorina demanded. “The government no longer works for those who pay for it.”

And her classic: “Citizens, we can take our country back!”

Fiorina doesn’t need to remind voters that she’s a political outsider who’s come closest to government by advising top officials in various departments. But she does take pains to remind voters that — aside from the job at the top of a big tech company — she’s just like one of them. “The truth is, ladies and gentlemen, I come from the same world you do.”

And you could forgive Fiorina if some of her rhetoric sounds downright progressive, such as this line: “The bigger government gets, the more true it is: the small and the powerless who create most of the jobs get crushed. And the big companies just keep getting bigger.”

But Fiorina’s solution — reducing the size of government so that it cannot be hijacked by big corporations to destroy small business competitors — has a bit of nose-cutting, face-spiting flavor to it.

Still, nobody’s going to confuse Fiorina for a liberal, with her prescriptions for scrapping the tax code, implementing zero-based budgeting across the entire federal government, gaining the power to fire more executives at the Veterans Administration if they fail to do their jobs, repealing the Affordable Care Act and defunding Planned Parenthood.

She also advanced the idea of using technology to conduct national polls on her policy ideas, with voters pressing “1” for “yes” or “2” for “no,” although it’s clear she’d prefer you vote yes on the things she calls common-sense ways to run a government. And she’s got a great Barry Goldwater-esque line about how voters in their hearts really want to see her debate Hillary Clinton: “I’m a girl, too. I’m a grandma, too. Can we please talk about the issues?” Fiorina said.

We may never have the sublime pleasure of seeing a Fiorina-Clinton face-off. In fact, we may never see her on a prime-time debate stage ever again, although she gamely declares herself “tied with a bunch of household names” in the polls. But for a brief moment on a Monday morning, Fiorina was the only candidate in the grooviest venue in town.

— Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and co-host of the show “PoliticsNOW,” airing at 5:30 p.m. Sundays on 8NewsNow. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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