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Carly Fiorina struggles to stand out at Vegas debate

Former Hewlitt Packard CEO Carly Fiorina got one more chance to play to her strengths Tuesday night as the Republican presidential candidates debated national security in Las Vegas.

Fiorina, who currently polls below 3 percent in the crowded GOP field, started out by expressing anger at the state of the nation and urging, "Citizens, it's time to take our country back."

Tuesday's CNN-hosted forum centered around national security. Fiorina, whose favorably reviewed performances in prior debates have not translated into polling strength, joined a fiery discussion about U.S. border security, terrorism, and the threat of the Islamic State. 

"Bombast and insults won't take it back," she said. "Political rhetoric that promises a lot and delivers little won't take it back."

Fiorina, who has criticized presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for making her gender a campaign issue, also touched on her own life story.

"I have been tested," Fiorina said. "I have beaten breast cancer. I have buried a child. I started as a secretary. I fought my way to the top of corporate America while being called every 'b-word' in the book."

As the debate wore on, the former technology executive was asked several times about the role America's high-tech industry could and should play in national security. She noted that the Patriot Act, which gave the federal government sweeping authority to combat terrorism, was passed in 2001, long before the debuts of the iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2011. "Technology has moved on and the terrorists have moved with it," she said.

"Government needs the private sect's help" to deal with modern security threats, Fiorina urged.

"Government," she said, "is using the wrong algorithms" to track, contain and address these threats.

The result, Fiorina contends, is that "government incompetence is now dangerous."

Fiorina insisted that private-sector tech companies have not been asked to play a leading role in national security. "They do not need to be forced," she said, giving a brief overview of how she responded in the wake of the 9/11 attacks to a government request for assistance.

After the debate, campaign spokeswoman Anna Epstein issued a transcript of a speech Fiorina gave on Dec. 7 at the Iowa Presidential Tech Downhill in which the candidate expanded on the idea of how tech companies and the government could cooperate on security.

On the Patriot Act, Fiorina's position reflects frustration at the current focus of debate. "Instead of arguing about a law that is 14 years old," she said in her Iowa speech, "I will gather our top technology leaders—the best and the brightest—and not a room full of politicians."

She said "national security will be strengthened when we empower individuals and companies to protect their own data and information while giving our national security experts the tools they need to protect our country."

Fiorina also advocated for "better information-sharing between private-sector companies and the government," but emphasized that this "doesn’t mean that we ask companies to share personally identifiable information that threatens individual customers’ privacy."

Before a commercial break, Fiorina insisted she be asked what her strategy for defeating ISIS would be. She was given the chance a few minutes later and called for the return of America's "warrior class" to help direct the military response to ISIS.

In her closing remarks, Fiorina changed the focus back to someone who wasn't on stage Tuesday night: Democratic front-runner Clinton.

"We need to beat Hillary Clinton to take our country back and keep our nation safe."

According to the RealClear Politics national polling average, Fiorina sits in eighth place at 2.3 percent. In the Dec. 15 PPP poll of Iowa Republican voters, 3 percent said they would "most like to see (Fiorina) as the GOP candidate for president in 2016."

Billionaire real estate developer Donald Trump leads in that poll with 28 percent.