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Story highlights

Carly Fiorina could help Ted Cruz in California, where she ran for Senate in 2010

But the state's primary rules complicate things

Los Angeles CNN —  

Ted Cruz’s highly unusual move announcing that he would name Carly Fiorina as his running mate certainly brought him a major splash of attention this week. But any predictions about how much Fiorina can help him in the complex California primary on June 7 are, at best, a wild guess.

Cruz was looking to inject some fire and flash into his candidacy with the Fiorina pick as Donald Trump edges closer to the 1,237 delegates he needs to win the nomination outright.

But Cruz is also clearly hoping that Fiorina will help him pick up delegates in California—the place where he must prevent Trump from crossing that critical threshold to become the Republican nominee before the conventions in July.

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Fiorina, the former Hewlett Packard Chief Executive who lived for a time in Palo Alto, is liked by Republican voters here. But she demonstrated the limits of her appeal in the Golden State during her unsuccessful challenge to U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer in 2010. Shortly after that defeat—by a 10-point margin—Fiorina moved from California to Lorton, Virginia, where she now lives and votes.

During her own presidential run earlier this year, Fiorina liked to say that she was the highest Republican vote getter in California in 2010, which is true. She won 4,217,386 votes in California, nearly 90,000 more Republican gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman(4,127,391), who was defeated in a embarrassing blowout that year by Jerry Brown after spending $177 million to Brown’s $36 million.

Fiorina defends her loss to Boxer by noting that California is a deep blue state where she was running against a veteran senator. But it’s worth remembering that Fiorina was expected to do much better in 2010, the tea party year when Republicans took over the House. The political climate was not a good one for entrenched Washington veterans like Boxer, whose approval ratings were at the lowest level of her career.

Boxer also revealed Fiorina’s many vulnerabilities with a skillful campaign that cast Fiorina as a heartless CEO who took corporate perks while laying off tens of thousands of workers. Fiorina’s image took a major hit here in California, and her campaign did not raise the resources they needed to tell her story on her own terms.

So what could the Fiorina effect be on Cruz’s California primary prospects? First, Fiorina appeals to many of the same kinds of conservative voters who would naturally gravitate toward Cruz – and probably would have voted for him anyway.

Fiorina could entice more suburban women to give a second look to Cruz in both Indiana and California, but many female voters in California are more socially moderate than Fiorina, who staunchly opposes abortion rights.

Her Silicon Valley connections might lift their potential ticket in those congressional districts – and certainly help Cruz on the fundraising circuit – but after Fiorina’s rocky tenure at HP, she is certainly not a revered or beloved figure within Silicon Valley.

Fiorina exhibited some pull with independent voters in 2010, beating Boxer 47% to 42%, according to exit polls. But independent voters can’t vote in the closed Republican primary in California. Trump holds a wide lead in recent polling by Fox News

Layer on top of that all the complexities of the California primary system, which already make it very difficult to game out which voters will turn out—and who to target – because it has been so long since California has been contested.

That means there is a dearth of good voter data – making it an expensive proposition to poll and gather the data needed to figure out which the congressional districts are the best targets for each candidate. It is also wildly expensive to advertise in California, where a statewide ad buy can cost between $2.5 million and $3 million a week.

Even with all those challenges, however, there are huge opportunities for all the campaigns given that there are 172 delegates at stake, by far the largest prize on the primary calendar.

And unlike some other states where it’s difficult to vet delegate loyalty, the campaigns get to pick the California delegates who will represent them at the convention, which is important in a race that could come down to a handful of delegate votes.

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The basic math works like this: Thirteen delegates will go to the Republican candidate who wins the most votes statewide. But the vast majority of the delegates will be awarded in each of California’s 53 Congressional Districts, which apportion three delegates to the winner in each district.

So the candidates are essentially competing in 53 mini contests across the state – some of them heavily Democratic districts where Republicans are few and far between, making it hard to even recruit people to be Republican delegates.

We’ll have to wait and see what the Fiorina effect will be.

But given the vast geography of the state and the need to campaign hard in the most promising congressional districts, Cruz will at least have a seasoned partner on the campaign trail who has proven herself to be a skilled and tireless surrogate. And as Cruz and Fiorina told us this week: She’s all in.