Ted Cruz has hit a difficult patch of late in the Republican Party nominating contest, and things could grow still worse if the Texas senator loses Tuesday's primary in Indiana to front-runner Donald Trump. Cruz has seen his national image nosedive in recent weeks. Meanwhile, Trump has won six straight primary contests by huge margins, giving him a formidable edge in the delegate race.
It is in this context that Cruz made the surprising announcement last week that he would choose former Hewlett-Packard CEO and erstwhile 2016 presidential candidate Carly Fiorina as his vice presidential running mate should he win the nomination. Cruz thus became the first major party candidate to announce a prospective ticket-mate since Ronald Reagan did so in 1976. Reagan at that point was mounting a losing battle to defeat incumbent President Gerald Ford for the GOP nomination at the party's national convention.
Could Fiorina's presence solve any of Cruz's immediate problems -- namely boosting his own unpopularity with Republicans or finding a way to cut into some of Trump's supporter base?
One answer to that question comes from a look at how Republicans viewed Fiorina when she was an active candidate. Although she was popular with most Republicans on a net favorable basis throughout her presidential campaign -- particularly after her debate performance last August -- her image faded as her campaign came to an end in February.
Fiorina ended her campaign with a net favorable rating of +25, well below the peaks registered for her in the second half of 2015 (+40 and +38). Her final net favorable reading, if it is still about the same today, would nonetheless be higher than Cruz's -- whose image is underwater with Republicans -- and about the same as Trump's.
One obvious reason for Cruz's announcement of Fiorina as his running mate was the possible benefit it might bring him among women -- either to appeal to Republican women in primary voting or to boost the perception that Cruz might do better than Trump among women in a general election matchup.
At this point, based on interviewing conducted in the last week of April, Republican and Republican-leaning women (-11) have a slightly lower net favorable rating of Cruz than Republican and Republican-leaning men (-3). Trump's gender gap is much bigger: +36 net favorable among Republican and Republican-leaning men and +11 among Republican and Republican-leaning women. Thus, Cruz overall has more of a problem compared with Trump among Republican and Republican-leaning men than among Republican and Republican-leaning women, casting some doubt on the need to reach out specifically to women in his bid for the GOP nomination.
We also found that in the final month of her campaign, Fiorina carried a net favorable of +23 with Republican women, exactly equal to her net favorable with Republican men. During that same period, Cruz's image among Republican women was +33 and among men was +39. This indicates that Fiorina did not bring to the table any particularly unique appeal to GOP women when she was running, casting some doubt on the idea that she will bring more GOP women to Cruz in the current situation.
Of course, neither Cruz nor Trump does nearly as well with women as does Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee. In the last week of April, Clinton had a +2 net favorable rating among women, while Cruz had a -26 and Trump a whopping -45 net favorable. The disparity in views of Clinton and Trump among women is also interesting, given that Trump said last week that "women don't like Hillary." They certainly like her a lot more than they like Trump.
Cruz's choice of Fiorina could make sense if he argues that his ticket would stand a better chance with women against Clinton than would a GOP ticket without a woman -- if Fiorina would, in fact, have a positive effect on female voters in the fall. Of course, it is possible that Trump could also select a woman as his vice president if he receives the nomination, though Trump has indicated he will wait for the "traditional" time to pick a running mate after securing the nomination.