The man behind Carly Fiorina opens up

Frank Fiorina opens up about supporting Carly
Frank Fiorina opens up about supporting Carly

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    Frank Fiorina opens up about supporting Carly

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Frank Fiorina opens up about supporting Carly 04:21

Story highlights

  • Carly Fiorina's husband calls her "tenacious"
  • He reveals what he wants to do when she's called a "b word"

(CNN)If Hillary Clinton becomes the first female president, there won't be much mystery about the man who would be the first First Gentleman - Bill Clinton.

But the man behind the only Republican woman running for president, Carly Fiorina, is largely unknown. And the way Frank Fiorina tells it, that's fine with him.
For the past two decades he has dedicated his life to quietly supporting her - first in business, then in politics.
    While some men might be intimidated, or even put off by being Mister Carly Fiorina, he says he "was always proud to be."
    Frank even quit his own impressive corporate job at age 48 when she became CEO of Hewlett Packard, in order to be there for her.
    "It was quite controversial believe me. I knew it was the right thing to do," Frank told us in an interview at his wife's campaign headquarters.
    He said his friends were split "50-50" about whether it was the right thing to do. Some were jealous, others thought he was nuts.
    But he was surprised by the person most upset about his decision to give it all up for his wife - Carly's father.
    "[He was a] very accomplished man -- law professor, federal judge -- he could not understand how I could give up my career to support my wife," recalls Frank.
    "Several years later he came around and he thanked me over and over for doing just that. Because he knew it was the right thing for Carly and the support she needed," he added.

    The Fiorina Love Story

    Frank met Carly while they were both working at AT&T, and he says their first interaction was a clue as to what kind of person she was.
    "She has been told what she was trying to do couldn't be done by numerous people, including the operating company and AT&T corporate. And someone steered her my direction and I was just so impressed with her when I met her because she was so tenacious. She just wouldn't take no for an answer," Frank said.
    He says he didn't get the courage to ask her out for two years, and that when he finally did, she had to pass a difficult test - the approval of his two young daughters.
    "It was just like a Disney movie. I mean they would play havoc with my dates. And when I finally got to bring Carly home it was pretty clear to me that the three of them loved each other and there wasn't much choice in my future. I had to ask her to marry me eventually," said Frank.
    He is proud of telling the story of the prediction he made on their third date -- that she would be a CEO one day.
    "I did tell her that. And I'm not even quite sure why. At the time it was a mixture of a great line and the truth," he said with a laugh.
    Frank admits that a lot of men would be intimidated by a strong woman with promise, and looking back, he says he is surprised he had the confidence to date her.
    "Well when you think about a person that's that smart, and that hard working, and that focused, it's hard to keep up sometimes. There's very few things that during our tenure when we were dating or since we've been married that Carly didn't do better than me," he said.

    Reluctant Political Spouse

    Frank Fiorina is not shy about the fact that he is not crazy about politics.
    "Politics is so different than business. And of course I spent my whole life in business, working," he said.
    And while many political spouses say they freely offer advice, Frank Fiorina does not.
    "I'm very cautious about when I give her advice. Very cautious," he said, because she already has so many people trying to tell her what to do,
    "I really try to pick my targets. If there's something I really feel she's being misled by I speak up. And normally we argue about it within a day she changes her way," he said.
    Like most candidate spouses, Frank Fiorina takes political attacks on his wife much more personally than she does.
    "I'm an Italian boy from Pittsburgh - so I don't need to quite explain what I'd really like to do. But it just infuriates me. Carly can let it roll off her back," he said.
    But one of the most famous lines about Carly Fiorina this election year - Donald Trump making fun of her face - didn't bother her husband as much as one might think.
    "In that case, I almost thought it was humorous. I mean out of all the people on the stage it would be hard to say there is anything wrong with Carly's face, I would say. I get nothing but compliments about how beautiful my wife is," he said.
    He says there is no question his wife is treated differently because she is a woman.
    "Carly won't say this but I will: I've watched for 34 years how she has been treated differently in everything she's done in life. Everything," he said.
    At last week's CNN debate, Carly said she had been called every "b" word in the book. Her husband told us the story of one of those "b" words.
    "Her first management job. Her first time she had people reporting to her. Her boss introduced her to the new team as their token bimbo. Could you imagine that? Token bimbo," he recalled, shaking his head.
    Fiorina, left, smiles with her husband Frank Fiorina, right, after casting their ballots at a polling place June 8, 2010 in Los Altos Hills, California.

    Family Tragedy

    Carly Fiorina talks often on the campaign trail about 2009 - the year that tested their faith. Frank's daughter, Lori, died of a drug overdose - followed by Carly's diagnosis with breast cancer.
    "It was a bad year," says Frank, his voice cracking to reveal the unimaginable pain of losing a child.
    "We had been struggling with my daughter's addictions for a couple years. So it wasn't new or unexpected. I prayed every night about my daughter. Because I kept saying this is going to end badly. There was no way for it to end right. She was too smart, too educated. She would never admit that she had a problem," he said.
    He wears a gold bracelet made from a necklace Lori was wearing the day she died.
    "It was a bracelet - it was a necklace that Carly bought her. So I know it looks silly but I - I wear it all the time," he said.
    If Carly Fiorina became president, he says his portfolio would focus on the disease of drug addiction and veterans' issues.
    "People don't understand addictions. We have laws that cause people with addictions to really become worse not better. There's so much we need to do with our veterans and we have seen some tremendous proposals on the campaign trail that all we have to do is enact. That's what I'm going to spend my time on. God willing," he said.
    Despite her stump line about starting out as a secretary, Carly Fiorina comes from a relatively privileged background. Her father was a federal judge.
    It is Frank's blue collar background she often uses to help relate to voters on the campaign trail.
    He says he still considers himself the scrappy boy from Pittsburgh who started his career as an AT&T technician and tow truck driver.
    "You know the last three or four homes we've owned, I'd be sitting outside these homes and I would worry about a police officer driving up to arrest me for breaking into the house," he jokes.
    "When I was a kid -- my father died when I was 13 -- I did everything I could to make money from early on. I fixed televisions, I drove tow trucks, I played in a band, I -- whatever I could make money doing."
    So what would he be called in the White House? The first dude, Todd Palin style? Not so much.
    "First Frank I guess. I've had Frank all my life I think I'm going to keep it," he said with a smile.