Hoping to infuse some momentum into his struggling campaign, Sen. Ted Cruz on Wednesday bucked tradition and said that former executive Carly Fiorina would be his vice presidential running mate should he emerge from the GOP's July convention as the party's nominee
With fanfare usually reserved for a summer convention, Cruz announced his decision in Indiana, where he is barnstorming the state in what could be his last stand against Donald Trump.
Cruz hopes Fiorina will appeal to female voters who have been alienated by Trump as well as those who appreciated her sharp performance during her own unsuccessful run for the White House.
The Texas senator endured deep losses this week with Trump's sweep of the mid-Atlantic state primaries, and he is banking on a win in the Hoosier state to propel him into the final contests. The biggest delegate cache will be in California, where Fiorina once had a presence as the GOP's nominee for Senate in 2010.
"She is smart, articulate and loves campaigning," said Beth Miller, who advised Fiorina's 2010 Senate run. "People like her and connect with her. She affords him some new life in the campaign since the media will be following him even more closely."
Switching up the narrative may help Cruz reset the race in Indiana. Voters here don't usually play such an oversize role in the nominating contest and they appear eager to be courted as Cruz travels the state.
But whether the vice presidential pick will provide the voter and donor enthusiasm needed to overcome Trump's romp toward the nomination is less certain.
"I'm not sure it will have the intended effect," said John Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California, speaking before Fiorina was formally announced as Cruz's running mate. "If I were to guess at the deliberations in the Cruz camp, I would guess they think this would help with women voters and help with California. I don't think it's the game changer they're hoping for."
In introducing Fiorina on Wednesday, Cruz made an overt appeal to female voters, recalling Trump's past criticism of Fiorina's appearance. "Carly isn't intimidated by bullies because she's faced challenges much worse than someone bellowing and yelling and insulting her face," Cruz said.
Before clasping hands with Cruz onstage in front of hundreds of cheering supporters, Fiorina said, "I am prepared to stand by his side and give this everything I have." At one point, Fiorina sang a few lines of a made-up campaign song to Cruz's two small daughters.
Fiorina won widespread praise for her performance in the GOP presidential debates, where she was the only female candidate.
Fiorina's campaign theme -- that she is an outsider, not a career politician -- is one that will likely resonate with Trump supporters. She has never held elected office, but argues that her tenure running Hewlett-Packard showcases her leadership skills.
But voters did not reward her. She pulled less than 2% of the vote in Iowa and dropped out after the New Hampshire primary in February.
Fiorina comes with her own political shortcomings, including a business record that was used in attack ads during her failed bid to unseat California's Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.
Boxer painted Fiorina as a jet-setting CEO who oversaw the firing of 30,000 workers, the shifting of jobs overseas and a sharp drop in stock price before being fired and receiving a $21-million golden parachute. "The Clinton camp wouldn't have to change a thing, just rerun the Boxer ads," Pitney said.
Attacks about Fiorina's business record are almost certain to be raised in Indiana, which depends on manufacturing and has seen jobs shipped overseas.
Reed Galen, a GOP strategist, said he was skeptical that Fiorina would make much difference to Cruz's campaign.
"Fiorina proved herself to be an excellent retail candidate but outside early debates was unable to break through with voters," he said. "Unfortunately for her and Ted Cruz, outside of six days' worth of marginal buzz, this is likely little more than a Hail Mary before the Hoosier state votes on Tuesday."
After endorsing Cruz in March ahead of the Florida primary, Fiorina fast became his surrogate on the campaign trail and remains popular as one of the leading women in the Republican Party.
"She's very popular in Indiana," said David Buskill, the state GOP's executive director, adding that during a policy talk last year she "knocked it out of the park."
In California, though, Fiorina may have less standing. She lost the Senate race by 10 points and now lives in Virginia. But there is clearly some residual fondness for her among the state's Republicans. California donors spent $9.5 million backing her presidential campaign, the third-most of any candidate (only former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio did better). That's twice the amount they have given Cruz.
Tea Party Patriots cofounder Mark Meckler of California welcomed the choice. "Cruz is moving to put together a conservative-outsider unity ticket to make a last stand in Indiana and California," he said.
Steve Deace, a conservative Iowa radio host and early Cruz backer who was once skeptical of Fiorina's conservatism, predicted her return to the campaign trail would increase pressure on Trump, who has struggled to win over female voters due to a string of comments his critics call sexist. "Her presence is a daily, living reminder of Trump's struggles with women," Deace said.