Ted Cruz has taken to calling California “the big enchilada” of 2016, and he made a seemingly significant nod to the state this week when he picked Carly Fiorina, who was the California Republican Senate nominee in 2010, as his running mate.
But as Fiorina makes her California debut at the state GOP convention this weekend as a part the Cruz-Fiorina ticket, she will arrive in her old stomping grounds with virtually no political infrastructure or network to tap into, according to numerous GOP operatives in the state who both support and oppose Cruz.
That’s largely because after her 2010 lost to Barbara Boxer, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive quickly dismantled her political machinery, moved across the country to Virginia and didn’t pay off all her debts to vendors and strategists for more than four years, even as she made sure to quickly reimburse herself $1.25 million she had loaned the campaign.
California Republicans say that while Fiorina has remained popular among some grass-roots Republicans and donors in the state — and elevated her profile substantially with her own presidential run this cycle — she is unlikely to offer Cruz any particular home-state edge, other than serving as a second full-time surrogate, just as she will do everywhere else.
“Even when she ran for the Senate, she came out of the business community and did not have a political operation to speak of, beyond the one we built for her,” said Beth Miller, an adviser to Fiorina’s 2010 campaign.
Miller praised Fiorina as a talented and tireless campaigner but wondered what new voters she could bring into Cruz’s fold. “The interesting question is: Isn’t Carly’s base of support a very similar one to the constituency that would support Ted Cruz?” Miller said. “So you have to ask yourself what is it she would bring to California?”
Another veteran of the Fiorina campaign noted that she ran relatively strongly in the Central Valley, the same region where polling has shown Cruz performing best.
One California GOP strategist who worked on Fiorina’s 2010 campaign warned it would be a mistake for the Cruz campaign or national pundits to presume Fiorina can provide the Texas senator a California boost simply because she’s run and lost in the state before.
“I kind of thought to myself: Oh, they are thinking to themselves this is going to help them in California,” the strategist said of the Cruz campaign. “This ain’t going to help them in California.”
“She lost, picked up and left the state, and didn’t pay her bills,” the strategist added.
Cruz is currently laser-focused on Indiana, which votes next Tuesday and which is where he announced Fiorina’s selection. The decision to name Fiorina as a running mate now — in the wake of a spate of losses across the Northeast — was widely seen as an effort to jolt fresh energy into the campaign ahead of Indiana’s crucial election.
Any benefit in California, whose 172 delegates Trump will need to secure the nomination, is seen as secondary at the moment. Talking points about Fiorina distributed by Cruz’s campaign to surrogates, even in California, make no mention of the state and instead focus on her contrasts with Trump.
“It allows us to divide and conquer,” said Cruz communications director Alice Stewart of the advantage of naming a vice president so early.
As for California, Stewart declined to talk about Fiorina’s upcoming campaign schedule but said, “Her connections and contacts, and past in California is going to be a benefit in that state. It always helps to have someone with local ties.”
Fiorina could help open some fundraising doors for Cruz in the state. Charles Munger, one of the GOP’s most generous benefactors, has told associates of his fondness for Fiorina. She also has some ties to Silicon Valley from her time at Hewlett-Packard, though her tenure was tumultuous and she has enemies there, too.
Jeff Corless, who served as Fiorina’s political director in 2010 and now supports Trump, predicted her addition to the ticket would be “a bonus for Ted Cruz. But I don’t think it gives him the kind of victory he hopes.” He said that even without any discernable political infrastructure, Fiorina has a grass-roots following in the state.
“Sometimes they mispronounce her name,” he said, “but they like her.”
In 2010, Fiorina’s campaign spent more than $21 million on her Senate bid, including millions to win a three-way GOP primary. In the fall, Boxer and the Democrats eviscerated her record at Hewlett-Packard, tagging her in millions in ads as an outsourcer who sent tens of thousands of jobs overseas before taking a multimillion-dollar golden parachute for herself.
Wayne Johnson, a GOP strategist in the state, said those ads are almost all forgotten by now. “Whatever negatives there were based on ads, there’s a half life on that,” he said, “They won’t have an impact on this race. They’d have to run the ads all over again.”
Fiorina ended up losing to Boxer by 10 percentage points and more than a million votes. She soon moved to Virginia. Her campaign ended with about $500,000 in unpaid bills, including money owed to the widow of a consultant who passed away during the campaign.
Fiorina didn’t pay the debts off until 2015, as she prepared to launch her own presidential bid.
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