The Historical Precedent for VP Candidates from New Jersey: Nearly Nil

Dayton: Went Nowhere Fast.
Dayton: Went Nowhere Fast.

Occasionally, the name of a New Jersey politician will surface as running mate fodder prior to the national conventions.

As Governor Chris Christie and U.S. Senator Cory Booker now vie to be their party’s respective running mates, we pasted together a list of some of those other occasions when New Jersey’s elected officials surfaced as either short list VP prospects or in political conversations.

It’s fun, but the reality is it rarely happens, and you’d have to go back to the 19th Century to find two examples of New Jerseyans actually rounding out national tickets in B side roles.

The infamous Aaron Burr wasn’t one of them. Burr served as vice president under Thomas Jefferson, but while it’s true that he was born in New Jersey and bested Alexander Hamilton in a Weehawken duel, he cut his political teeth in New York not New Jersey.

To date, just one person in the country’s history wriggled onto a winning national ticket. And only three (by our reckoning) have actually occupied a national ticket as VP prospects.

Theodore Frelinghuyssen

With gratitude to former Congressman Dick Zimmer, who graciously alerted us to the oversight of not originally including him on this list, we add Frelinghuysen (1787-1862), a U.S. Senator tapped by the Whig Party to serve as their nominee for vice president in 1844. Henry Clay topped the ticket. According to Maxine Lurie and Mark Mappen’s excellent Encyclopedia of New Jersey, “During the 1844 campaign, Democrats attacked Frelinghuysen as a ‘Negro lover’ because he donated a building lot for the Fourth Presbyterian Church, an African American church in Newark, and for his leadership role in the American Colonization Society.” He and Clay lost.

William L. Dayton

New Jersey has a history of dissing Abraham Lincoln. The state not only never backed him for president, but infamously gave a safe nest to the President’s chief antagonist: former General George McClellan. An unsuccessful candidate for president against Lincoln in 1864, McClellan found a home as governor of New Jersey in 1878. But in the annals of New Jersey VP political history, another, lesser known figure from the Garden State also squared off against Old Abe. In 1856, Dayton, a United States Senator from New Jersey, became the Grand Old Party’s first vice presidential candidate on a ticket with John Fremont, edging none other than Lincoln for the job. The Fremont/Dayton ticket would go on to lose to Democrats James Buchanan and John C. Breckinridge. For years later, Lincoln headed the successful Republican ticket.

Garret Hobart

In the lead up to his run for president, Chris Christie took trips to Mexico and England to prove he wouldn’t morph into an Ugly American on foreign soil. The campaign’s hope, of course, was that the Bruce Springsteen acculturated Jerseyan could show signs, if not of outright sophistication, at least of photo op readiness alongside iconic images like 10 Downing Street and a Mexico City taco shop, topped off by Christie’s finger-in-the-eye comments about Vladimir Putin. Apparently, William McKinley didn’t care about stuff like that when in 1896 he selected Hobart to be his VP on the Republican ticket. A Long Branch native, Hobart offered the government experience of having served as the Speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly. In hindsight, Hobart makes Dan Quayle look like George F. Kennan, but his political organizing skills at the Republican Convention proved invaluable to McKinley as he pulled New Jersey into the Ohio Governor’s column and on that basis positioned himself for the GOP’s national ticket.

Robert Meyner

Governor of New Jersey from 1954-1962, Meyner had a career not unlike Chris Christie insofar as he fostered considerable star power buzz during his first term. Mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate on the 1956 ticket with Adlai Stevenson, Meyner didn’t get picked. You know you’re in trouble when a campaign takes a lawn sign chance on Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee sooner than saddle a national ticket with a Jersey guy. Reelected governor in 1958, Meyner opted to run for president in 1960, but his time had passed, as future victor John F. Kennedy soundly defeated him.

Cornelius Edward “Neil”Gallagher

Later jammed up on tax evasion and perjury charges, the Bayonne Congressman was kicked around as a potential 1964 running mate for Lyndon Johnson.

Richard J. Hughes

Democrats loved the Governor of New Jersey (1962-1970). After having hosted the Democratic National Convention of 1964, Hughes made Hubert Humphrey’s VP short list in 1968, losing to Maine Senator Edmund Muskie.

Thomas Kean, Sr.

The popular Republican governor felt out his own presidential run with a trip to New Hampshire in 1986, then became the subject of back chatter in 1988 as a potential running mate for George Herbert Walker Bush. Kean didn’t seem overly interested in the job, however. “There are a lot of people who want to be vice president and I’m not one of them,” he said. “It’s a job that requires total loyalty to the president, but it’s also a job that does not have a lot of responsibility, and of all the jobs I’ve ever wanted to do it has never been one to cross my mind.” He added, for clarification, “It would be very arrogant to say that under all circumstances if he were to come to you that you’d say, ‘No.’ That would make my life very difficult.” Bush ended up picking Quayle that year, but the reality is that in Kean’s time, New Jersey stood a better chance of being the home state of a ticket-balancing candidate as it was truly a battle ground.

Bill Bradley

Some Democrats wanted Al Gore to select Dollar Bill as his running mate. As Gore tried to figure out his best ticket mate in 2000, Terry Golway wrote a piece for the New York Observer in which he reported that New York delegates to the Democratic Convention preferred Bradley as a VP choice to any other prospect. But a bruising primary and the Democratic nominee’s insistence on finding a squeaky clean-in-his-private-life choice in the aftermath of the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal, likely contributed to Bradley’s demise as a Gore complement. Not that Bradley didn’t have a great reputation. But Gore wanted Boy Scout on another level. Many enjoyed having their names bandied as VP prospects, including John Kerry and Evan Bayh, before Gore finally settled on Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, who was such a nice guy, he failed to go on the attack.

Bob Menendez

In the lead up to the 2008 Democratic Primary in New Jersey, the United States Senator’s name circulated as a possible running mate for his presidential choice, U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton. Menendez emerged mostly as a function of the Clinton Campaign seeking to spike Latino vote totals in a closely contested primary contest. Pundits largely dismissed the possibility as regionally unlikely, given the politically pointless pairing of New York and New Jersey¬† on a national ticket. Incidentally, that’s one of the main arguments that dogs both Christie and Booker.

Cory Booker

Hillary Clinton still remembers watching Wanted: Dead or Alive starring Steve McQueen on a black and white television set in the family living room. A dinosaur, her relevant cultural references seem forced at best. The infinitely hipper Senator Booker is a twitter animal addicted to selfie taking and the kind of self promotional antics mostly frowned on by prior generations. Confused, aging, unhip insiders suspect Booker has a social media vitality saleable to ego-addled millennials. So he’s in the mix.

Chris Christie

On paper, he looks like a non-starter, which is why he’s probably Donald Trump’s VP front-runner. The Historical Precedent for VP Candidates from New Jersey: Nearly Nil