Who's on Second?

The importance of picking the right running mate

Politicians rarely give honest answers, especially during presidential election years. So rather than ask them what they think their party's chances are, you need to find creative ways to wring the truth out of them. My favorite torture implement is the veep test.

Put simply: How many likely running mates have publicly stated they're not interested? If the answer is "a lot," it's a sure bet they expect their guy to lose, regardless of what they say to the press.

On the Democratic side so far, Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) has said he's not interested in being vice president, but only after his disastrous intro of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in Bristow, Virginia, this June. The scandal plagued—and likely baby daddy—John Edwards has also taken himself out of the running. That's about it, except for Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland's lame Gen. Sherman impression.

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) has said he'd accept. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson double-crossed his political patrons to have his own shot, earning him the nickname "Judas" from James Carville. The senior senator from Delaware is Biden his time and waiting for that phone call from his friend Barack. Even Obama's archrival Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) would like to help out—by muscling her way onto the ticket.

Republicans are reacting rather differently. Their most likely future standard bearer, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, has publicly taken his name out of consideration. So has Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. And Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman—who might as well be a Republican—has declared himself a non-candidate. Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) economic advisor, the former snooping Hewlett-Packard CEO and political neophyte Carly Fiorina, stands a decent chance of landing the number two slot at this point—unless McCain is willing to make nice with hated rival Mitt Romney in exchange for an infusion of cash.

The veep test is only a measure of the current conventional wisdom, however, and does not necessarily herald good news for the Democrats or, for that matter, those Republicans currently telling McCain to take a hike. The great Whig statesman Daniel Webster famously refused the vice presidential nomination because he did not want to be buried before he was dead, a sentiment that cost him the presidency.

In 1968, Richard Nixon settled on Maryland Gov. Spiro Agnew after being waved off by several would-be veeps. But then the great Greek hope helped to secure key Southern states in a bruising, close election. Former President Gerald Ford effectively turned his rival Ronald Reagan down with talk of a "co-presidency" in 1980. Reagan went on to beat Jimmy Carter like a red-headed peanut farmer without him.

Especially in a tight election, the veep pick can be a much-needed wild card. But the pick doesn't always work out the way a presidential candidate might expect. In 1988, Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen turned out to be a great choice for the Democratic ticket. In fact, after he made horsemeat out of Dan Quayle in their debate, many people openly asked why he wasn't at the top of the ticket. It only made Massachusetts miracle worker Michael Dukakis look smaller by comparison.

Candidates pick running mates either to help nail down a state or to send a message. Lately, the win-a-state consideration has fallen out of favor, but maybe, in this message heavy year, retail politics will make a comeback. The parties are wisely holding conventions in Colorado and Minnesota, purple states that might go either way in the general election. All these states need is a good push. Perhaps each party's nominee will take a lesson from this in selecting their understudies.

Jeremy Lott is the author of The Warm Bucket Brigade: The Story of the American Vice Presidency.

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  • ||

    Shoot, I'll do it, either ticket. The VP makes good money, and I'd like to be able to go do some stargazing at the Naval Observatory when I felt like it. Bodyguards would be nice, too.

  • ||

    VP possibilities that would make me pause and consider voting for a major party ticket over Barr before ultimately rejecting the idea:
    Obama: Richardson
    McCain: Palin

    VP possibilities that would make me actually vote for a major party ticket:
    [null set]

  • ktc2||

    Yeah, they need to choose carefully.

    The nuts have already started trying to kill Obama, and you can bet there will be MANY MANY more.

    And McCain, let's face it, he could kick it at any second. He even looks horribly weak and frail on stage. He's too old to count on being around long.

    So there's a high probability (IMO) that the VP will become the POTUS this cycle.

  • thoreau||

    I'd do it. All those Inherent Powers of the Fourth Branch would be pretty sweet!

  • SIV||

    The nuts have already started trying to kill Obama

    Hyperbole ? Metaphor ?

  • ktc2||

    http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/state/orl-obama-threat-080808,0,7241318.story

    All the facts are not in yet on this case but I'm sure there will be many, many racists with guns after him. He's gonna need "Pope mobile" to survive long.

  • SIV||

    Geisel denied in a written statement to a Secret Service agent that he ever made those threats, and the documents don't indicate that he ever took steps to carry out any assassination.

    Another person in the class quoted Geisel as saying that "he hated George W. Bush and that he wanted to put a bullet in the president's head," according to the Secret Service.


    Sounds like a dumb shit shooting his mouth off rather than an assasination attempt.

  • Episiarch||

    All the facts are not in yet on this case but I'm sure there will be many, many racists with guns after him. He's gonna need "Pope mobile" to survive long.

    Hyperbole indeed. Methinks Bubba would prefer to drink beer and yell at the TV screen instead of actually getting past the Secret Service, killing Obama, and then getting caught and sent to Supermax solitary for life. Maybe a needle in 10 years, maybe not.

    Racists can be mean, violent shits but they generally aren't going to sacrifice themselves for some white power principle.

  • Vermont Gun Owner||

    With the election just three months away, Jeremy Lott surveys the vice presidential prospects of John McCain and Barack Obama.

    Just? This thing has been going on forever. I think "still" would be a better word choice than "just."

  • ||

    his disastrous intro of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in Bristow, Virginia, this June.

    I must have missed that, and The Google just links to reports describing it like any other campaign event. Did something juicy happen?

    Methinks Bubba would prefer to drink beer and yell at the TV screen This probably true even for 99%+ of gun owning, angry racists.

    But still, there are probably a couple dozen, maybe a couple hundred, fanatics out there. Overall, though, Obama probably has more to fear from people who would also like to kill Busyh or McCain - Islamist terrorists and ordinary psychos topping the list - than from the Klan.

  • Episiarch||

    Obama probably has more to fear from people who would also like to kill Busyh or McCain - Islamist terrorists and ordinary psychos topping the list

    Because he's an apostate! His middle name is HUSSEIN! His birth certificate is forged! My Lithium drip has a kink in it! The pharmacy was out of Seroquel! I self-medicate with Robitussin and wine coolers!

  • ||

    The nuts have already started trying to kill Obama, and you can bet there will be MANY MANY more.

    Oh, please. I seriously doubt there will be more serious attempts on Obama than there were on the last three Presidents.

    Lets not forget that the last two Presidents to catch bullets were shot by leftists*, after all.

    *to the extent their bizarro politics can be categorized at all, anyway.

  • ||

    My Lithium drip has a kink in it!

    Effing ell oh ell, man.

  • ktc2||

    I think you underestimate the influence of hatred on idiots.

    Only time will tell.

  • SIV||

    I think you underestimate the influence of hatred on idiots.

    GWBush and Bill Clinton seem to have weathered it quite well

  • Matt Moore||

    I must have missed that, and The Google just links to reports describing it like any other campaign event. Did something juicy happen?

    I thought the same thing. I think this is the speech in question. I've just watched it, and it's a little stilted at the beginning, but I'd hardly call it disastrous.

  • ||

    A couple of months ago, I confidently predicted that John Edwards would be Obama's pick for the VP slot.

    In light of today's breaking news, I withdraw that prediction.

  • ||

    But still, there are probably a couple dozen, maybe a couple hundred, fanatics out there. Overall, though, Obama probably has more to fear from people who would also like to kill Busyh or McCain - Islamist terrorists and ordinary psychos topping the list - than from the Klan.



    Obama has the most to fear from the Che Guevara sporting far-left supporters who are in love with him scaring away moderate voters, than he does from any racist thugs. And, in converse, racist death threats against Obama hurt McCain.

  • ||

    Rex,

    The far left people are not the ones who are in love with him. They lumped him in with Edwards and Hillary a long time ago, and these days they sound a lot like the PUMAs and McCainiacs in their sneering about people who are "in love with him," their insistence that his Iraq policy is just like George Bush's, their obsession with FISA, yadda yadda yadda.

  • johnl||

    For John McCain, almost anyone would help. But for BHO, almost nobody. I would like to throw into the ring the name Nativo Lopez. He was born here wasn't he?

    Instantly, people would stop complaining about the skeletons in BHO's closet, so busy they would be with those strewn out in the open all around the running mate.

  • ||

    McCain, let's face it, he could kick it at any second

    The republicans should be so lucky.

    -jcr

  • ||

    Lets not forget that the last two Presidents to catch bullets were shot by leftists*, after all.

    *to the extent their bizarro politics can be categorized at all, anyway.



    That's an odd characterization. I never thought of John Hinckley, Jr. as being very political, though his parents were apparently Colorado Repubilcans.

    To rehash an old joke, has anyone told Hinckley that John McCain is screwing Jodie Foster?

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