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Let the Veepstakes Begin

Former Vice President Dan Quayle endorses Mitt Romney

Former Vice President Dan Quayle endorsing Mitt Romney for President at a rally in Arizona. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

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With Rick Santorum’s announcement that he will halt his campaign, leaving Mitt Romney the presumed Republican presidential nominee, it’s time to start playing one of everyone’s favorite election season parlor games – the VEEPstakes. As political pundits begin to speculate whom Romney might choose as his running mate, it’s worth examining historical selection of running mates and the factors that influence a presidential nominee’s decision. Factors traditionally considered to influence the selection of a vice presidential candidate include: how divided the party is and how much support the presidential nominee has within his party; whether the candidate provides ticket balance by bringing in a core ideological, age or demographic constituency; whether the candidate can contribute to the electoral strategy by bringing a swing or because of their position on issues; and what experience the candidate brings to the ticket.

We dug into our archives here at the Miller Center and found evidence revealing President Lyndon B. Johnson’s thinking on selection. In a July 30, 1964 phone call with former New York Democratic Senator Robert Wagner about three weeks before the Democratic Convention, President Johnson asks him to leak to the press that party’s leaders support the President’s right to choose his running mate and that a divided party is something to be avoided. According to Johnson:

They don’t want the president to sleep with anybody he doesn’t want to sleep with. And he ought to have a man that … he trusts and likes and can work with him. We oughtn’t to have a divided ticket to start, and therefore, you can expect to support the man the President selects. I just don’t think it can do us a bit of good to have a … divided party. 

As Johnson’s call illustrates, it is ultimately the presidential nominee’s decision and each individual might place emphasis on differing factors and characteristics in selecting a running mate.

The Miller Center has recognized the growing importance of the vice presidency for more than two decades. In 1992, the Miller Center organized a bipartisan commission to examine the criteria and qualifications for selection. The Commission, co-chaired by former Republican Senator Charles McC. Mathias and former Democratic Senator and Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie, recommended three criteria:

(1) The vice presidential nominee should be of presidential caliber, given the strong likelihood of succession. (2) The nominees for president and vice president should be compatible to assure full partnership in office and continuity of philosophy and world view, should succession occur, and (3) attention should continue to be given to the political support a vice presidential nominee is expected to bring to a presidential ticket.

Indeed, the Miller Center Commission’s recommendations also comport with recent scholarly studies on vice presidential selection. Douglas Kriner of Boston University and Mark Hiller of University of Virginia Law School examined vice presidential selection between 1940 and 2004. Based on empirical data, they argue that as a result of the McGovern-Fraser reforms and George McGovern’s ill-fated selection of Thomas Eagleton as his running mate in 1972, veep selection changed between 1968 and 1972, from a model dominated by ticket balance to one concerned with a running mates' compatibility, government experience and qualifications to be president.

Similarly, Joel K. Goldstein in a recent post for Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, found that one of the factors driving conventional wisdom – that nominees seek running mates from key swing states – does not stand up to scrutiny. In his examination of recent history of vice presidential candidate selection, Goldstein argues:

Presidential nominees presumably know something about electoral politics and are strongly motivated to make politically rewarding choices. Yet in modern times they almost never choose a running mate based on the assumption that he or she can swing a state with a lot of electoral votes. The running mate often comes from a state with few electoral votes and/or a safe state and, when he or she has recently come from a state rich in electoral votes, that fact has played little, if any, role in the selection.

Goldstein provides further evidence that the selection of a running mate is much more complicated than electoral votes from a single state. Furthermore that nationalization of presidential politics has contributed factors that influence selection. All things equal, a presidential nominee will prefer a running mate of presidential quality over candidates who bring electoral votes, but have other defects.

Although Romney currently faces the challenge of a divided party, it may not be the case a few months from now when it comes time to choose a running mate. Additionally, Republican strategists have noted that Romney is unlikely to repeat John McCain’s mistake of making the dramatic, but entirely political, choice (Sarah Palin). Advisers close to Romney think he’s more of the school of choosing someone who can become president.

So, given what’s at stake and the empirical evidence of factors that influence a presidential nominee’s running mate selection, who do you think Romney should consider as his vice presidential candidate and why?

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