Choosing A Veep

We have been so fascinated by the presidential horse race in 2007-2008 that we have forgotten about the number two

We have been so fascinated by the presidential horse race in 2007-2008 that we have forgotten about the number two slot on the tickets. History tells us that the best way to get to the White House is by being a vice president at one time or another. The office gives one opportunity, publicity, and party links that are important to ambitious politicians. And in some instances, most notably 1960, the choice of a vice president on the party ticket can help carry an important and closely divided state like Lyndon Johnson did with Texas.

It is doubtful that presidential candidates will choose a number two person from their closest rivals. Sorry Huckabee and Clinton or Obama. There is a feeling that diverse, heterogeneous parties need to create some balance, not just geographic, but now ethnic, racial and gender.

Let us suppose that Obama is nominated, who would he choose? Perhaps he really wants to emphasize experience in military and security affairs and goes to General Wesley Clark, a former NATO commander and protector of Bosnia. He is an articulate advocate of the New Army and he ran for the Democratic nomination for president four years ago. Or if Obama wants to stress his opposition to the war and also his respect for the armed services, he might want to go with Jim Webb, Senator from Virginia and former Secretary of the Navy under Reagan. On the other hand, he might want to acknowledge the aspirations of women with the Washington state governor, Christine Gregoire.

A Hillary ticket could be matched with her favorite, Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana, or the governor of the important state of Ohio, Ted Strickland. If a Democrat can carry Ohio, she or he will be elected president. Historically the Republicans can not win without Ohio. Four years ago the election was decided there, when Bush won.

On the Republican side, Senator John McCain has locked up the nomination. He would probably like to go to his friend in South Carolina, Senator Lindsay Graham, but the party will most likely favor the governor of that state, Mark Sanford, and more desirable-Charlie Crist, the very popular governor of Florida, another important state.

These choices are meant to strike a balance, appease the losers in coalitions, and show how decisive the president will be. When George McGovern had to remove his first choice when it came out that he had a history of mental problems, he effectively sunk his anti war candidacy in 1972.

Franklin D. Roosevelt's vice president for two terms, John Nance Garner, once told people that the vice presidency was not worth a pitcher of warm spit, a not particularly charming expression. But since then, presidents have come to regard their veep as an important asset in the Administration. Still, it is hard to imagine tightly wound candidates accepting the second spot. They have already had visions of sitting in the chair of Lincoln and FDR, so the number two spot has no real attraction. Vice presidents are not historical figures, unless they become president.

Michael P. Riccards is Executive Director of the Hall Institute of Public Policy – New Jersey.

Choosing A Veep