House Republicans may be divided over their next leader, but there was one rising party star who managed to unify a group of often-disagreeing members: Carly Fiorina.
The ascendant GOP candidate held court with dozens of lawmakers at the Capitol Hill Club just outside the Capitol on Wednesday night – chatting policy with the crowd over popcorn.
The word of the night: “impressive.”
Fiorina ignored reporters’ questions as she entered and exited the event, but lawmakers who took part were all happy to sing her praises, even if they weren’t ready to endorse.
And the crowd was diverse, including center-right Rep. Pete King of New York and conservative House Freedom Caucus members North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan.
“I’m not that often in the room with guys from the Freedom Caucus,” King told reporters as he left the event. “They were all there, and a lot who would be center-right and center, and they all seemed to be responding.”
Illinois Rep. Peter Roskam, agreed.
“There’s a lot to be said for that,” he said, when asked about King’s comment. “It was a wide range of Republican members who were there and her message and her clarity and the passion with which she was speaking really resonated with the group.”
Both men also independently used the words “very impressive” to describe Fiorina.
“She’s clearly a Tier 1 candidate,” Roskam said.
That was echoed again and again by the lawmakers leaving, who said that inside the room the discussion was on topics like the budget, foreign policy and the Constitution. There was no discussion of House GOP leadership or the continuing resolution, lawmakers said.
Meadows said the room was “standing room only” and Michigan Rep. Candice Miller – who has endorsed Fiorina – estimated there were about 200 people in the meeting and about 50 lawmakers.
Miller also met privately with Fiorina and a handful of female lawmakers from both chambers after the open lawmaker event, where they had a “free-flowing” discussion, she said.
“The thing that I keep hearing about is people that have actually endorsed maybe another candidate have said, ‘As soon as my person falls off’ … that they would be looking at endorsing Carly. And I know she’s picked up some endorsements tonight,” Miller said, saying she’d leave specific names to the campaign.
Fiorina has been steadily rising in the polls since impressive performances in the GOP debates, including skyrocketing to second and third place in some recent polling.
She has picked up a small handful of congressional endorsements, including Miller and Rep. Lynn Jenkins of Kansas.
None of the lawmakers who spoke with reporters after the event endorsed Fiorina, but several put her in their top two to three choices. Rep. Trent Franks, of Arizona, said he’s a Mike Huckabee fan, but if they joined forces, “that’d be a great ticket.”
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect Lynn Jenkins is from Kansas.