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While most Penn students were rushing to a class or yawningly getting out of bed, Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina was speaking in Irvine Auditorium.

On Thursday, Fiorina was the keynote speaker of the first annual Keystone Conference on Business and Policy, which will wrap up on Friday. Fiorina spoke for nearly 30 minutes about economic policy, leadership and student loan debt.

“I believe it’s time to take our government back,” she said to a round of applause from the audience of about 100 people.

“Entrepreneurship and innovation has always been the secret sauce of this nation,” she said.

Fiorina stuck mostly to her talking points on economic policy, reiterating her support for zero-based budgeting, a simplification of the “73,000 page tax code to three pages” and a “top-to-bottom” review of all federal regulations.

She also advocated strongly for greater scrutiny of bureaucrats, who she claimed could subsist at their job without doing much important work.

“You can be a federal employee and watch pornography all day,” she said. “That’s a fact.”

One questioner in the audience asked how Fiorina would address student loan debt, prompting an excoriating criticism of the views of her Democratic rivals, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“There is no such thing as free,” she said regarding Sanders’ plan to make state college tuition free for all students. “Someone will pay.”

Fiorina also lambasted President Barack Obama’s administration for assuming control of student loan programs.

“This is how socialism starts. Government creates a problem and then government steps in to solve the problem,” she said. “[The] federal government pays less interest for its debt than students pay on loans.”

Fiorina has risen considerably in the polls since her presidential candidacy announcement on May 5, likely due to consistently strong performances in the second and third Republican presidential debates. In a Bloomberg poll released on Thursday, she finished seventh among the 14 candidates included in the poll — one of whom, Gov. Bobby Jindal, has since exited the race.

While she was met with a largely supportive audience at Penn, Fiorina’s address did not come without controversy. In the evening before her keynote address, Penn Democrats President and Vice President, College senior Sean Foley and College junior Max Levy, released a statement criticizing Fiorina’s background as the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and her views on Planned Parenthood.

“Carly Fiorina has a habit of blending fact with fiction,” they wrote.

Fiorina, who was forced to resign in 2005, was roundly criticized for a series of layoffs she instituted during her six-year tenure as CEO of HP. In the second Republican presidential debate on Sept. 16, she described a video taken by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress where Planned Parenthood workers allegedly discussed keeping a fetus alive to “harvest its brain,” according to a transcript of the debate provided by the Washington Post., a watchdog website run out of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, wrote after the debate, “We are aware of no video showing such a scene.”

“As someone aspiring to lead our country, Fiorina should be pushed to explain her failed business record and to acknowledge the facts about Planned Parenthood's indispensable role in women's health care,” read the Penn Dems statement.

Despite the Penn Democrats’ statement, few students were seen at Fiorina’s speech, potentially due to the conference’s $99 registration fee and its early start time on a weekday. 

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