Carly Fiorina’s rise could eclipse Nikki Haley’s higher aspirations

Gov. Nikki Haley waves as she walks onto the stage at the presidential forum Sept. 18 sponsored by Heritage Action at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville.

COLUMBIA — During a recent appearance at the National Press Club in Washington, Gov. Nikki Haley finally admitted the rumors are true: Yes, she wouldn’t mind being vice president if one of the candidates comes knocking.

But that was before Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina’s meteoric rise.

In recent weeks, Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, has vaulted past better-known rivals, such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, trailing only Donald Trump in some polls.

If Fiorina wins the Republican nomination, a two-woman ticket is highly unlikely. But if she loses, while proving that she is a formidable candidate, Fiorina could position herself as the leading candidate for the No. 2 spot on a Republican ticket, especially if former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination.

“A presidential nominee is going to want to pick a vice presidential candidate that complements them, that balances out their shortcomings,” said Kendra Stewart, political science professor at the College of Charleston. “Fiorina is much more moderate. She’s a lot like Trump in that her greatest asset is being an outsider.”

Who is going to be the candidate that Haley or Fiorina could balance out is unclear, however, said Scott Huffmon, political science professor at Winthrop University. Few predicted Fiorina’s sudden rise after two strong debate performances.

“I think most folks decided she needed a closer look after the first debate,” Huffmon said. “Her performance in this race so far has really helped her.”

And there’s a chance that neither Haley nor Fiorina could be beneficial to the eventual nominee because neither comes from key swing states, such as with Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida, or Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

In a Fiorina administration, Haley’s best prospect might be heading up a federal agency. But if another of the outsiders wins the nomination, Haley could be seen as balancing out the ticket by appealing to either the establishment base or the conservative tea party wing, factions that might not otherwise turn out for Trump or Carson, Stewart said.

And Fiorina has something Haley doesn’t: She’s running for president and Haley is not.

“She is out there raising money and raising support, which is more likely to get her on a ticket than someone who has not been doing any campaigning,” Stewart said. “She will already have a national constituency of folks who will be larger than Haley’s constituency simply because she’s out there raising her name recognition.”

There’s an advantage to being on the sidelines, however, Stewart added. Haley’s name isn’t getting dragged through the mud like Fiorina’s will likely be in the near future as she becomes more of a threat to the front-runners.

For now, however, Haley will likely keep playing the game of not looking overly eager, Huffmon said.

“This is the proper time to engage in this subtle dance, especially as the candidates are just pouring into South Carolina,” Huffmon said. “I think the contest to be the vice president begins to play out once it’s clear who the nominee is.”

Reach Cynthia Roldan at 577-7111.