Carly Fiorina has almost no chance of winning the Republican nomination, but being the only woman in the race positions her to blast Hillary Clinton in a way none of the other GOP candidates can and could help Fiorina become the GOP's vice-presidential nominee.
Fiorina, a businesswoman who ran the computer hardware and software company Hewlett Packer from 1999-2005, starts with a major disadvantage: she has never held elective office before. The last person elected president without having been vice-president, a U.S. senator or a governor was Dwight Eisenhower in 1952. Eisenhower had been head of U.S. forces in Europe during World War II.
Fiorina's government experience has been limited to a fundraising post at the Republican National Committee, a role as an adviser to John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, and then an unsuccessful run for a U.S. Senate seat in California in 2010.
Republican Party leaders and activists are much more likely to prefer a candidate who has electoral experience, and the 2016 GOP field will include at least a half-dozen hopefuls who have won statewide races. Fiorina has received almost no endorsements or backing from major donors or party officials early in the race. It's hard to see a path for Fiorina to win a single state.
So what is Fiorina running for? The candidate herself says her lack of political experience helps, because American voters are exhausted with career politicians. Although Fiorina was pushed out from her role as chief executive at HP in 2005, her business experience at the top of a major corporation distinguishes Fiorina from the rest of the GOP field.
Her gender could be another asset. None of the female Republican governors or senators have opted to enter the presidential race. So while Fiorina largely avoids this subject, she has an obvious opening to run: Republicans don't want to have an all-male group of candidates on stage blasting Clinton during the GOP debates.
Fiorina, a more skilled speaker than many of the male 2016 candidates, will be a credible, female voice articulating conservative criticisms of Clinton.
Fiorina's policy positions fit well within GOP orthodoxy, as she opposes abortion rights and favors cutting taxes and reducing the size of government. And with Clinton expected to speak frequently about the role of women in society -- and to campaign on policies like increasing government funding for child care and closing the pay gap between men and women -- Fiorina's rebuttals of Clinton will be particular significant.
"Because I am a woman, there are many things she can't say. She can't play the gender card. She can't talk about being the first woman president. She can't talk about the war on women," Fiorina said in a recent Fox News interview, referring to Clinton.
Attending all the debates and campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire provides an opportunity for Fiorina, even if she can't win the party's nomination. In an increasingly diverse America, Republicans are very unlikely to tap a ticket of two white males as they have in most elections in the past. And the ranks of prominent minority and female Republicans are small.
If Fiorina runs a strong campaign, she could vault to the top of the vice-presidential list for whoever wins the nomination.