Carly Fiorina burst onto the political scene five years ago as a tough-talking conservative with business experience, taking the fight straight to the heart of a liberal icon.

She has a  knack for delivering sharp, punchy attacks on Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.

That could be a perfect description for Carly 2016, a presidential campaign that has begun to grab notice after a pair of highly regarded GOP debate performances and a knack for delivering sharp and punchy attacks on Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.

Her latest debate performance clearly has paid off: A new national CNN/ORC poll out Sunday morning shows she’s soared into second place among GOP candidates: Donald Trump still holds the top position with 24 percent support, but she has gained on him and now ranks second at 15 percent, just ahead of Ben Carson’s 14 percent.

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These developments are in line with Carly 2010. The former Hewlett-Packard CEO won high marks after a pair of debates against Sen. Barbara Boxer in California. The race was close during the summer of that year, before the incumbent pulled away and won 52 percent to 42 percent.

Boxer was vulnerable that year. Uncompromisingly liberal, she never has been as popular as California’s other Democratic senator, the more moderate Dianne Feinstein. The California economy was in shambles, with a 12.3 percent unemployment rate in September 2010. In addition, some voters had begun to tire of Boxer, who had been in office since 1993.

What’s more, the national mood was running decidedly against Democrats. Republicans picked up six Senate seats across the country that year, and a whopping 63 House seats.

“She has the biggest Achilles’ heel of any candidate around,” said Mark Mellman, who was Boxer’s pollster. “She was Mitt Romney before Mitt Romney was Mitt Romney.”

Fiorina’s failure to win under those conditions raise questions about how she would fare in a general election race against Clinton. Though she was neck and neck with Boxer in September 2010, Fiorina’s standing began to slide as Boxer hammered her for firing 30,000 workers at Hewlett-Packard, reducing shareholder value, and then getting fired herself.

“She has the biggest Achilles’ heel of any candidate around,” said Mark Mellman, who was Boxer’s pollster. “She was Mitt Romney before Mitt Romney was Mitt Romney.”

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Romney was attacked relentlessly during the 2012 presidential campaign for his work restructuring companies and, inevitably, laying people off.

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But Marty Wilson, who managed Fiorina’s 2010 run, told LifeZette that Fiorina was a good candidate. He attributed her loss to Boxer’s superior financial resources and the strong Democratic tilt of the state. Although Fiorina lost by a million votes, Wilson pointed out that 700,000 of those came from Los Angeles County, and most of the rest of the deficit came from the liberal San Francisco Bay area.

“Those national waves seem to die out at the Sierra Mountain range — actually more accurately, the coastal mountain range,” said Wilson, now vice president government affairs at the California Chamber of Commerce. “At the end of the day, there are just more Democrats than Republicans here.”

Thad Kousser, a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego, agreed.

“She did surprisingly well in a race that just about no one thought would be competitive,” he said. “What people here liked about her was that she was authentic and off the cuff. You can do that when almost no one expects you to win.”

She started off as a good candidate — gaining more energy as she recovered from cancer — and got better as the campaign wore on.

Fiorina today is in the national conversation because of her debate performances. She almost universally was deemed the winner of the “junior varsity” showdown in August, which allowed her to climb onto the main stage Wednesday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Most analysts and many voters came away impressed.

Kousser said Fiorina got high marks for her talent on the campaign trail in 2010.

“There are some candidates who look good in 30-second ads that can’t give a stump speech or perform well in a debate,” said Kousser, adding that Fiorina could do both.

Wilson, who has no role in Fiorina’s presidential campaign, said she started off as a good candidate — gaining more energy as she recovered from cancer — and got better as the campaign wore on.

“She did very well … She also had a number of debates in the primary, which you can’t forget about,” he said. “We did lots of preparation with her. But she had a lot of innate skill.”

There were some missteps. Fiorina was caught on an open mic disparaging Boxer’s hairstyle. During her three-way GOP primary, which she won with more than 50 percent of the vote, she drew criticism for an attack ad depicting primary opponent Tom Campbell as a sheep demon. Before she was a candidate, she lost a job as an adviser to Arizona Sen. John McCain after suggesting that neither he nor running mate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin would be qualified to run Hewlett-Packard.

Mellman, the Democratic pollster, said Fiorina has improved her debating skills. But he said her Hewlett-Packard tenure will continue to haunt her. He predicted that Clinton or any other Democratic nominee would run Boxer’s playbook in a national campaign.

“I would be shocked if they didn’t,” he said. “It’s (business experience) the one and only thing she has. It’s her reason for being. Take that leg out, and she has nothing to offer.”

Kousser said Fiorna’s controversial tenure certainly is a liability.

“It’s always a double-edged sword when you’re someone from big business,” he said.

Wilson, too, acknowledged that Fiorina will have to answer her critics on the topic. But he suggested a bigger issue for her is money. She only retired debt from her Senate race early this year. And despite two well-regarded debates and rising poll numbers, she trails her main rivals in fundraising.

“I think that’s quite literally the $100 million question,” he said. “She’s managed to stay afloat because her Super PAC has raised a little bit of money. She needs to raise a lot more.”

This article has been updated.