For 48 hours, Republican Carly Fiorina's message was less about why she should be California's next U.S. senator, and more about her health.
And at this late stage of her tight race against incumbent Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, experts say, it could cost her at the polls.
Fiorina, 56, was hospitalized for two days while she was treated for an infection stemming from her bout with breast cancer. She was cleared Wednesday and scheduled to return to the campaign trail Thursday.
The days she lost pushed the first-time candidate off her message: jobs and the economy.
While it could remind voters that a candidate is human, it's difficult to judge how undecided viewers will react because they tend to know less about the candidates.
"I think the seriousness of the hospitalization is something undecided voters will take into account," said Ange-Marie Hancock, associate professor of political science and gender studies at the University of Southern California.
"To the degree that it's coming at the last stretch of the campaign, I think it's potentially harmful to her campaign," she said.
Fiorina on Thursday will resume the hectic schedule her campaign set for her in the final days of the race, crisscrossing the state from Sacramento to San Diego to rev up her base and sway remaining undecided voters.
Republican political consultant Kevin Spillane, who is not involved in the Senate race, said Fiorina may get a sympathetic response from voters but it's best to get the candidate back on message.
"The big unknown is how do people view it — with sympathy about her courageous fight against breast cancer or with concern," he said.
Hancock discounts the assumption that Fiorina will win sympathy votes from women voters because polls have shown women tend to vote on issues.
A recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found Fiorina trailing against Boxer among women voters by 16 percentage points, likely because of Fiorina's more conservative stance on issues such as abortion and the environment.
Fiorina's campaign announced Wednesday the former Hewlett-Packard CEO has been successfully treated for the infection at a Los Angeles-area hospital.
"Carly is grateful for the outpouring of well wishes and prayers from so many Californians," Fiorina's chief of staff, Deborah Bowker, said in a prepared statement.
On Tuesday, Fiorina sent supporters to take her place to meet with small business owners in two Riverside County cities to discuss jobs and the economy. Supporters took her place at a scheduled campaign stop in San Diego on Wednesday afternoon.
Boxer, meanwhile, appeared Tuesday night with first lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, to urge Democratic supporters to grant Boxer a fourth term.
Boxer met with volunteers in West Hollywood in the afternoon.
Fiorina was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2009 before she formally announced her run. She completed chemotherapy and radiation treatments a year ago and had reconstructive surgery in July after having a double mastectomy.
Recent polls show the race tightening with just six days left before the election.
A University of Southern California-Los Angeles Times poll released Sunday showed Boxer maintaining a narrow advantage, 47 percent to 41 percent, against Fiorina.
The gap was smaller than the same poll showed a month ago.
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