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Carly Fiorina returns to California to boost Ted Cruz

Carly Fiorina returned to California on Saturday night, making a quick appearance at the state Republican Party convention in Burlingame to support Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has named her his vice presidential nominee.

The former Hewlett-Packard CEO and California Senate candidate took aim at the state’s environmental policies and Republican front-runner Donald Trump.

Targeting Republican voters in the Central Valley, both Cruz and Fiorina called out the delta smelt in their speeches, using the tiny fish as a symbol of environmentalists prioritizing fish over jobs.

While Cruz’s speech focused largely on his campaign’s platform, Fiorina unleashed a verbal assault on Trump, who addressed the convention on Friday afternoon.

“Donald Trump isn’t going to challenge the system,” Fiorina said. “Donald Trump is the system.”

She also called on Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Friday night’s keynote speaker, to “get the memo” and leave the race, throwing cold water on any thought that the two campaigns would join against Trump in the Golden State.

“In California, a vote for John Kasich is a vote for Donald Trump,” she said.

Saturday’s crowd was largely pro-Cruz, who spoke at a luncheon. Many supporters at the Hyatt Regency in Burlingame were pleased that the Texas senator has added Fiorina to his ticket. Marleia Sire, a co-chair of Cruz’s campaign in Napa County, said she came around to Fiorina after an in-person encounter.

“People say that she’s not very personable, but she’s funny! She’s just really smart and I think it was a good choice,” Sire said.

Familiar Face to California Republicans

It remains unclear how much Fiorina will be able to add to Cruz’s campaign in California, both in terms of fundraising and grassroots organizing. Her failed 2010 Senate campaign remained hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt for years after her loss, yet she was the only Republican presidential candidate to receive donations (both to her campaign, and a super PAC supporting her run) from wealthy Palo Alto physicist Charles Munger Jr., a top GOP contributor in the state and a leading sponsor of this weekend’s convention.

Fiorina finished well ahead of former Congressman Tom Campbell and Assemblyman Chuck DeVore in the 2010 Senate primary, before losing to Barbara Boxer by 10 points in the general election. Some Cruz supporters lauded the fact that Fiorina’s general election campaign was at least competitive against the incumbent Boxer.

“She knows California,” said Joan Titus, of Stockton. “She got millions of votes, that’s nothing to sneeze at.”

California GOP activist Jon Fleischman, who is supporting Cruz, says he’s heard support from state Republicans for Fiorina’s selection. He added that many voters may have forgotten the Boxer attack ads that targeted Fiorina; focusing on the layoffs she oversaw while CEO of Hewlett-Packard.

“They’re going to reintroduce her during the campaign, and I think she has a narrative that will sell to Californians,” Fleischman said. “It certainly sets up a stark contrast. Cruz and Fiorina both have their policy chops. Both smart people that are very aggressive, so they make a good ticket.”

Bill Bowen, a San Francisco Republican who publishes the blog “Right in San Francisco” said Cruz and Fiorina are too similar to share the top of the ticket.

“They’re both policy wonks, neither of them is a flamboyant or charismatic person,” said Bowen, a supporter of Ohio Gov. John Kasich. “So I don’t think he helps her by having a second policy wonk on the ticket.”

Cruz Touts VP Choice in Lunchtime Address

Cruz began his Saturday luncheon address to the assembled party activists by praising Fiorina, and emphasizing what his campaign hopes will be an effective contrast with the Democratic ticket in November.

“Carly terrifies Hillary Clinton,” he said. “I can just think about Hillary thinking about Carly, tossing and turning, tossing and turning … in her jail cell.”

Perhaps the biggest applause followed Cruz’s promise to make Fiorina “the first Californian on a national ticket since Ronald Reagan.”

While Cruz remained at the convention to talk with activists, Fiorina made a quick exit back to Indiana, where the Cruz/Fiorina ticket faces an important primary vote on Tuesday.