Republican U.S. presidential candidate Cruz stands with Fiorina at campaign rally in Indianapolis
By James Oliphant
INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, in a last-ditch bid to slow front-runner Donald Trump's momentum, on Wednesday named former business executive Carly Fiorina as his vice presidential running mate should he win the nomination.
After crushing losses to Trump in five nominating contests in the Northeast on Tuesday, Cruz praised Fiorina, a former presidential rival, as a principled fighter for conservative values who would be a valuable ally on the campaign trail.
"Carly is a vice presidential nominee who I think is superbly skilled, superbly gifted at helping unite this party," the U.S. senator from Texas told a rally in Indianapolis, the capital of Indiana.
The Midwestern state was the next battleground for selecting the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates for November's general election and was shaping up to be Cruz’s best - and perhaps last - chance to block Trump’s march to the nomination.
Cruz acknowledged it was unusual to choose a running mate so early in the race. Traditionally, the winners of the Republican and Democratic nominating races announce their running mates in the period between clinching the nomination and summer's national conventions.
"I think all would acknowledge this race, if anything, it is unusual," said Cruz, 45, adding that he wanted to give voters a clear choice and offer a rebuttal to media suggestions the Republican race was over.
In the Democratic nominating race, Hillary Clinton, 68 won four of Tuesday's five contests, building a virtually insurmountable lead over rival Bernie Sanders, a 74-year-old U.S. senator from Vermont, who vowed to keep fighting until the July convention.
In tapping Fiorina as his No. 2, Cruz was apparently trying to recover from Trump's landslide primary wins on Tuesday in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut and Rhode Island. The victories made the uphill climb towards the nomination even steeper for Cruz.
"I've had tough fights all my life," Fiorina said after Cruz introduced her. "Tough fights don't worry me a bit."
Fiorina, 61, dropped her own White House bid in February after a seventh-place finish in New Hampshire. She endorsed Cruz a month later and has been a sharp critic of Clinton.
Fiorina and Cruz both said they had grown close since her endorsement, and she sang a few verses of a song she said she sings to Cruz's two daughters on their campaign bus.
The choice of Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packard Co chief executive who, like Trump, has never held elective office, could help Cruz with women voters, a group that Trump has had difficulty winning over to his outsider campaign.
It also could offer Cruz a boost in the June 7 primary in California, where in 2010 Fiorina won the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. She was defeated in the subsequent general election by incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer. Fiorina now lives in Virginia.
Trump has amassed 987 of the 1,237 Republican national convention delegates he needs to secure the nomination, to 562 for Cruz and 153 for Ohio Governor John Kasich, 63, the third remaining candidate, according to the Associated Press.
If Cruz can win a large share of Indiana's 57 delegates, it will increase the chances that Trump will not be able to win the nomination on the convention's first ballot. After that, many delegates will be free to turn to Cruz, Kasich or a dark-horse establishment candidate on a second or subsequent ballot.
A loss to Trump in Indiana would effectively cripple Cruz’s bid, and increase pressure on the party to rally around Trump as the prospective nominee.
'WASTE OF TIME'
Trump poured scorn on Cruz's decision to pick a running mate, calling it "a pure waste of time" and "a desperate attempt to save a failing campaign by an all-talk, no-action politician."
"Cruz has no path to victory. He is only trying to stay relevant," the New York billionaire and former reality TV star said in a statement.
Cruz said Fiorina had already proven her mettle in standing up to Trump last year after he insulted her looks in an interview. "Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?" Trump had asked, only to be sternly rebuked by Fiorina in their next presidential debate.
"She's faced challenges a lot worse than someone bellowing and yelling and insulting her face," Cruz told the Indianapolis crowd.
A breast cancer survivor who lost a stepdaughter to drug addiction, Fiorina served as Hewlett-Packard CEO from 1999 to 2005. She was forced to resign amid weak earnings as the company struggled to digest a $19 billion merger with then-rival Compaq Computer Corp. About 30,000 layoffs took place during her tenure.
Fiorina's campaign never took off in the original 17-member Republican presidential field, and she was mostly relegated to the early second-tier debates for low-polling candidates.
Some conservatives applauded Cruz's choice. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which works to elect political candidates who oppose abortion rights, said Fiorina was the "ideal" choice.
"She will take Hillary Clinton head-on," Dannenfelser said in a statement.
(Reporting by James Oliphant in Indianapolis and Emily Stephenson, Jeff Mason, Megan Cassella, Alana Wise and Timothy Ahmann in Washington; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Frances Kerry and Jonathan Oatis)