Would Carly Fiorina boost Ted Cruz in California?

Modern running mates tend to be picked to provide balance for a candidate, rather than home-state advantage. This is what makes them interesting.

Mike Carlson/AP
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas speaks to Carly Fiorina in Orlando, Fla., March 11. Cruz has picked Fiorina as his running mate, according to the Associated Press.

Could Carly Fiorina help Ted Cruz win California in a fall general election?

That question comes up because Senator Cruz on Wednesday announced that Ms. Fiorina would be his running mate if he wins the Republican nomination for president. Yes, that’s a long shot – Cruz winning the nomination, we mean. Right now Donald Trump seems the most likely GOP standard-bearer.

It’s possible the Texas senator was not even thinking about the fall when making his VP pick. His main purpose might be winning precious media attention prior to next Tuesday’s Indiana primary.

But let’s not be too cynical. Fiorina-as-VP deserves analysis on its merits as well. And historically, vice presidents win their spot in part due to their perceived ability to help tickets win their home states. Think Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1960, helping John F. Kennedy narrowly carry Texas.

So could Fiorina pull Cruz over the top in California, a state where she built name recognition by running for Senate in 2010?

No.

First we’ll pull the string on the trick in the question. California is no longer Fiorina’s home state. She lost to Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer by ten points in 2010. After that she decamped to Virginia.

But wait, there’s substance coming! The fact is that studies show vice-presidential candidates actually have modest-to-no effect on their home state presidential votes.

Older studies have leaned to the no effect side of that range. However, a newly published comprehensive analysis by University of Virginia political scientists Boris Heersink and Brenton Peterson has upped that a bit.

“Our results from elections spanning 1884-2-12 suggest that vice-presidential candidates increase their tickets’ performance in their home states by 2.67 percentage points on average – considerably higher than previous studies have found,” the pair write in the journal American Politics Research.

That margin would still be unlikely to make a difference in California, a deep blue state on the presidential level. In 2012, Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney there by 23 percentage points.

Virginia might be a different story. That’s a battleground state President Obama carried by only four points in 2012. The trouble there would be rebranding Fiorina, a Silicon Valley CEO prior to her Senate run, as a citizen of the Old Dominion.

Actual presidential candidates seem to have figured out that their VPs aren’t home state weapons. In part that’s why in recent years they’ve tended to pick running mates who provide balance of some sort – regional, age, gender, or experience. Bill Clinton took a southerner who’d served in Vietnam, Al Gore. George W. Bush went for party elder Dick Cheney. Obama similarly picked an older party figure with long service on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Of course, that’s something that makes modern VP picks interesting. They’re often an indication of where candidates think their own political appeal is weak.

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