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Fiorina takes Mackinac Island by storm, surges in new national poll

Posted at 6:10 AM, Sep 20, 2015

MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. — Carly Fiorina barely made it off the ferry dock at Mackinac Island.

She was greeted by hundreds of supporters at the Michigan Republican Leadership Conference who roared a welcome, held bright red "Carly" signs and chanted her name as she arrived.

The crowd blocked the exit off the ferry dock, nearly crushing Fiorina and her team as they tried to make their way down the street.

And the greeting was just a preview for the rest of Saturday afternoon and evening for the Republican presidential field's fastest-rising star.

They slowed her way to the campaign's first stop, an event for Republican women leaders at a local bistro. When she finally made it through the crowd to the front of the event for a few remarks, she could barely get through them without encouragement from her supporters.

"It's not that women are better than men --" she said, cut off by a shout of "Yes, you are!"

"Let me ask you a question: how many of you saw the debate Wednesday?" she asked. The crowd cheered and said, "You won!"

Fiorina's stock has been steadily rising since the first GOP debate in August when she appeared in the early, under card debate. Her performance there caused an immediate ascent in the polls, earning her a spot in the prime time, top tier slot in the September debate.

A new national CNN/ORC poll out Sunday morning, shows Fiorina has rocketed into second place in the Republican presidential field and Donald Trump has lost some support.

The survey, conducted the three days after 23 million people tuned in to Wednesday night's GOP debate on CNN, shows that Trump is still the party's front-runner with 24 percent support. That, though, is an 8 percentage point decrease from earlier in the month, when a similar poll had him at 32 percent.

Fiorina ranks second with 15 percent support.

However, in a straw poll conducted with attendees on the island by the Detroit News and MIRS, Fiorina was edged out by Sen. Rand Paul, who received 22 percent of the vote.  Of the roughly 700 votes cast, Fiorina placed second with 15 percent. The two front-runners nationally, Donald Trump and Ben Carson, did not poll in the top five.

Despite some doubt that she might fade in the presence of the top talent, Fiorina shone through again, landing blows on Donald Trump and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.

As Fiorina arrived, she spoke with confidence about her rise in the race.

"I feel really encouraged, because what we know is that when people get to know me, and they hear who I am and what I believe and what I'll do, they tend to support me," Fiorina told reporters. "Every one of these debates has been a big opportunity to introduce myself. When I went into that debate, 50% of the people watching it never heard my name and didn't know I was running for president. So as more people get to know me, we build support."

That support was evident as she continued her stop on the island.

Fiorina carried on to a bar down the street from the bistro, where Michigan Republican Rep. Candice Miller was hosting an event. The line was out the door, as rumors of Fiorina's decision to stop by caused an overflow crowd.

Miller, who hasn't endorsed anyone in the race, said she'd been impressed by all the candidates at the conference, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

But she said Fiorina was standing out.

"I really think Carly has got the buzz, I really do," Miller told CNN. "I was very, very impressed with (her debate performance). ... She has just really in my opinion dominated the stage."

The throngs continued when Fiorina actually made it out of downtown Mackinac and to the historic Grand Hotel -- where she was giving a dinner keynote at the conference. She stopped by another event on the porch for Republican women and again was instantly mobbed.

At the dinner, where Fiorina entered and exited the dining room to shouts of "Carly! Carly!" and received standing ovations, she was introduced by Miller.

"I hear lots of people say that maybe it's time for America to elect a woman," Fiorina said. "If America is going to elect a woman, we need a woman who could actually have the qualifications to ascend to the presidency. A woman that the American people can trust, a woman that American people can believe in, and guess what there's only woman for president that meets that criteria, and that woman is a Republican."

Fiorina continued, telling the audience she was a "fearless fighter."

"Ladies and gentlemen, we must win this job," she said. "We must win in 2016, and I promise you, and I hope you have seen, I am a fearless fighter, I will not falter, I have been tested, and I will fight this fight."

Fiorina's fans on Mackinac weren't the only ones to take notice of her star turn. Earlier Saturday, for the first time, Fiorina was the star of a different show -- the Democratic National Committee's target practice. The DNC sent out a fundraising email to supporters invoking Fiorina's name as a fear tactic, the first time the party has exclusively targeted her.

It's a tribute of sorts that's typically reserved for high-profile candidates. But there were signs Saturday that Fiorina still hasn't quite reached front-runner status. There was a moment when she lost the crowd at the dinner when she was discussing the need for a strong leader in the Oval Office.

"Jeb Bush!" cried an audience member, who was later identified as an "unofficial" staffer for the Bush campaign.

But Fiorina, determined to continue her speech, continued on without acknowledging the interruption. When she finished, the audience gave her a standing ovation.

FOX 17s Josh Sidorowicz contributed to this report.