When I quit smoking some months ago, I resolved to donate the funds I saved to organizations and causes I supported. I have sent money to the Maine Heritage Policy Center in the past, so sponsoring Carly Fiorina’s keynote speaker appearance seemed an appropriate occasion to fork over about $2,000 (a bit less than four months’ worth of savings on a three packs per day habit).

The funds would all go to support the MHPC research projects, and the woman’s disciplined intelligence appealed to me. More, we share a background in medieval history, and I’ve been waiting more than 50 years for a presidential candidate with medievalist credentials.

When word got around that I had 10 banquet tickets and five VIP reception tickets to distribute, I discovered a lot of people were interested in Fiorina, more than I had imagined. So many appealed to me for a ticket that I spent another $1,000 to become a “host” with another five banquet and three reception tickets. After the banquet room filled up and MHPC had to hire an additional room for the overflow, I had to rent a stick with which to beat off supplicants eager for direct access.

My guests included Reps. Deb Sanderson of Chelsea, Beth O’Connor of Berwick and Heather Sirocki of Scarborough and former Sen. Doug Thomas of Ripley. Former Rep. Lance Harvell of Farmington, preoccupied with his job crisis at Verso Paper, couldn’t make it.

All were emphatically grateful at the opportunity; even more so after they heard the woman speak. Dave Emery, the former U.S. congressman, is as knowledgeable about current political developments as any man in Maine. Turns out he was well aware of the strong pro-Fiorina currents among knowledgeable and attentive Maine voters. As it happens, he was already in contact with “Carly for America” about offering his services and support.

Donald Trump reacted to Fiorina’s rise to fourth place, with a nasty tweet (the only kind of tweet he knows): “I just realized that if you listen to Carly Fiorina for more than ten minutes straight, you develop a massive headache…” He announced she has “zero chance” of winning. He crowned his flow of abuse by sneering at her face.

I was not in a spot where I could study every one of the 500 faces in the banquet hall, but those I could see showed no sign of yearning for aspirin. Fiorina had the rapt attention of everyone I could see.

The speaker’s critique of our national government’s oppressive and intrusive incompetence was eloquent but familiar to conservative audiences. We all agree that the status quo is unacceptable and must be changed. Her delivery conveyed an intense conviction that some of her rivals can’t equal.

Her speech had a feature unique to herself: She has to deal with her dismissal as CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Her response boils down to this: If you set out to change the status quo you make enemies; and that her decisions that led to a majority of her board sacking her were the correct ones.

This struck me as the best defense available to her, and I have written in an earlier column that I expected her to stick with it. She repeated it in the Wednesday debate.

The enthusiastic response to the MHPC address anticipated the reaction to her debate performance. I have no TV reception and my computer has gone mute, so I can gauge the reaction only through transcripts and written analyses. The consensus, across the ideological spectrum, is clear. Fiorina was the star of the show.

Steven Hayward, author of “The Age of Reagan” and commentator on powerlineblog.com, sums up a common reaction pretty well:

“One word: Carly. The response to the Trump ‘face’ comment was pitch perfect and deftly delivered. This may be the moment we’ll remember when the Trump balloon began to deflate. She got in a lot of other great lines, some of them importantly subtle, especially ‘women are not a special interest group.’ She’d totally slaughter Hillary [Clinton] in a head-to-head debate. Her crisp command of military details shows that she knows stuff. Her attack on Planned Parenthood, while coming across perhaps a notch too angry on TV, was likely immensely impressive in person in the hall, if the applause was any indication. If nothing else.”

The Drudge Report’s drive-by online poll reports 343,204 (50.88 percent) respondents calling the debate for Trump and 153,014 (22.68 percent) for Fiorina. The best that can be said for The Donald is that he survived in a hostile environment. Calling him a winner shows the fidelity and enthusiasm of his fans. It does not attest to their good judgment.

A sampling of article titles: Carly’s Knockdown of Trump May Change the Race; Carly Fiorina puts Donald Trump on the defensive in second GOP debate; Carly the Conqueror — How Carly Fiorina Did It: Pugilism With a Precise Touch.

John Frary of Farmington is a former congressional candidate and retired history professor, a board member of Maine Taxpayers United and publisher of www.fraryhomecompanion.com. Email to [email protected].

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