Friday, July 27, 2012

Q Day 2: Veepstakes!

Three questions about Veepstakes. TN asks:
All the discussion over VP candidates focuses entirely on their effect on the election, but I wonder: What do you think is the ideal type of person to do the actual job of VP? 
Kal asks:
Do you think the emphasis in the media on the VP's home state is overblown? The last candidate to be picked in large part because of his home state was LBJ 52 years ago. 
Greg asks:
I've noticed that governors are almost never chosen as VPs, and the ones that have been--Agnew and Palin--are two of the worst choices of all time. Another example would be Rockefeller, who was chosen as Ford's VP but not nominated as his running mate in 76. Is this just a coincidence? Is there a reason why governors would make for bad VPs? 
There was a piece in the Times Sunday about how the job of the vice president has really expanded from Walter Mondale on. They tend to be fairly important players within the administration, although what they do varies a lot. I'd say what you would want as far as doing the job well would be pretty much what you look for in a president -- good politician skills on both the campaigning and governing sides -- but with one additional requirement: lots of extra helpings of loyalty. That's because VPs are so hard to get rid of...really nearly impossible in normal circumstances, compared to a normal cabinet secretary or White House staffer who can be fired with hardly any difficulty in most cases. By the way -- note that this is yet another reason that the Sage of Wasilla was a particularly poor choice.

As far as home states: I think the record does show that candidates haven't tended to go with choices intended to sway home states, but I think that mainly shows that presidential candidates have made poor choices. I guess what I think is that the press should report the research, which is that running mates are unlikely to have any significant positive effect beyond a point or two of help in their home states. Beyond that, they should report whatever they're hearing from the nominee's camp, I suppose.

Governors. There's bit a tradition that governors as nominees will choose a Senator, presumably in order to address their traditional weakness in foreign affairs (and, no, that doesn't really make any sense, but it's been the tradition anyway). So since we've had a lot of governors as nominees, that accounts for a lot of it. So we have, what, two governors chosen, one by a (former) VP and one by a Senator, while Gore, GHW Bush, Kerry, Dole, and Mondale (and whoever else I'm missing...trying to do this quickly) didn't go for governors. So it's not that uncommon when the nominee is a governor, but not very common either.

I do think that the problem with Agnew and Palin wasn't really about being governors; I did something on this a while back and if I recall correctly they were the two least experienced Veepstakes winners ever.


  1. One candidate that you overlooked was Reagan. He picked Bush, a rival candidate, but otherwise Bush's career is difficult to summarize in single word. I guess you could say he was a loyal party guy.

    In a reflection of today's "issues," I think one of Rockefeller's problems was that the base was suspicious of a rich guy.

  2. Agnew and Palin had both been governors for just two years, which is kind of astonishing. Edwards and Ferraro had both been in Congress for about five years when they were picked as VP. Dan Quayle, although still seeming like a callow youth, had been in Congress for 12 years; he was elected to the House at the age of 29.

    1. Yup. The knock against Quayle on experience was totally a bum rap.

      OTOH, I'd probably be a lot better on this and other topics if someone had written the appreciation of Tom Davis that I've been expecting. Also the appreciation of the Al Franken tribute to Davis.

      Not that anyone should write anything they don't want to write, of course. Just saying.

    2. I read Davis' memoir a couple of years ago, so I might have something to say....

    3. Ah, excellent. Did you watch Franken on the Senate floor yet? I only saw the second half so far, but enjoyed it, and I'm not the world's biggest Al Franken fan.

  3. The "point or two in the VPs homestate" finding is often thrown in there to minimize the vote-getting aspect of the pick. But a point or two in a key swing state could actually be really important! A point or two in Florida or Ohio could shift a candidate's chance of winning that state by 10 or 20 percent - some back of the envelope math from Nate Silver's website suggests that that could be as much as a 2-3% increase in a candidate's chance of winning the Presidency.

    2-3% isn't much, but it's far bigger than the effect of most campaign activities.

    I think you could argue that Edwards was a win-his-home-state pick; at least I remember it being portrayed that was at the time. Not successful, obviously, but that may have been part of the intention at least.


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