As Presidents delegate more real responsibilities to their Veeps, a presidential candidate’s choices are increasingly a matter of personal chemistry. The candidates also consider expertise, such as foreign policy or legislative experience. Sometimes, candidates even consider who could safely run the country. (But see Palin and Pence.) As a result, these choices are increasingly difficult for outsiders to predict. Nonetheless, it’s a fun parlor game. Remember, this isn’t about who you want, but who you think best fits the electoral calculations.
Let’s start with some basic political considerations:
- It helps if a Veep can pull in a swing state. Indeed, that used to be pretty much all Vice Presidents were thought to be good for. Trouble is, in these polarized times there are increasingly few politicians who are true favorite sons or daughters with that kind of pull beyond what the presidential nominee brings to the ticket. So this consideration has faded if only because almost no one satisfies it. Al Gore couldn’t even carry Tennessee for Bill Clinton. This consideration still weighs against picking a Veep from a safely Democratic state such as California, like Senator Kamala Harris.
- Geographic diversity matters. Even if there isn’t someone who could be counted on to deliver Wisconsin, Ohio, or Florida, or maybe even Arizona, geographic diversity has value. In particular, a Democratic ticket with two northeasterners would likely face a disadvantage. If Sanders or Warren or even Biden is the nominee, they’ll want to look well beyond their neighboring states.
Other forms of diversity also matter. It helps if a Veep can appeal to a demographic or ideological group where the candidate is perceived to be weak. Modern history offers lots of examples: Pence (evangelicals); Biden (white “regular guys”); Reagan’s choice of the first Bush (moderate Republicans – back when they were numerous enough to matter); Mondale (the so-called liberal wing that suspected Carter). Occasionally, Veeps are presented as providing a skill set (e.g. Biden’s foreign policy experience, Cheney’s supposed gravitas) that the candidate is seen to lack.
Another modern consideration is whether the electorate can see the Veep nominee as a potential President. Sarah Palin’s candidacy is an object lesson in the costs to the campaign if the Veep fails that test. A similar issue is whether the Veep nominee has ever been exposed to the unique rigors and scrutiny of a national campaign. Palin is also a lesson in the risks of picking someone who hasn’t. Sen. Thomas Eagleton notoriously had escaped scrutiny of a his history of ECT therapy, and when that came out days after his being named by George McGovern, Eagleton got dropped from the ticket; the incident torpedoed whatever small chance McGovern had of being elected.
An additional consideration applies only if the candidate is thinking of picking a sitting Senator as a running mate: Who will appoint the Senator’s replacement if s/he gets elected Vice President? If Democrats have any hope of getting to even a tied Senate, the last thing they want to do is give up a sitting Senator’s seat. Here’s a list of the leading Senatorial presidential candidates, and their home-state governors:
|Corey Booker||New Jersey||Phil Murphy||Democrat|
|Kamala Harris||California||Gavin Newsom||Democrat|
|Amy Klobuchar||Minnesota||Tim Walz||DFL, ie Democrat|
|Bernie Sanders||Vermont||Phil Scott||Republican|
|Elizabeth Warren||Massachusetts||Charlie Baker||Republican|
OK. Enough preliminaries. Let’s play!