Vice Presidential Matters

Article excerpt


After conservative Republican Sen. John McCain rejected the entreaties of liberal Sen. John Kerry to join him on a bipartisan ticket as vice president, Mr. Kerry yesterday received an affirmative response from his second choice, John Edwards, the one-term Democratic senator from North Carolina who opposed him for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Interestingly, having espoused the boilerplate rhetoric that the most important qualification for a prospective running mate would be his or her fitness to immediately assume the duties of the commander in chief, Mr. Kerry selected the one candidate whose inexperience he ridiculed during the primaries. In a campaign in which the war on terrorism will play a major role, perhaps equally noteworthy is this fact: From a pool of 29 Senate Democrats who voted for the October 2002 Iraq war-authorization resolution, the 2004 Democratic ticket will now comprise two of the four war-authorization senators who a year later, succumbing to Democratic primary-season political pressure, voted against the $87 billion supplemental appropriation funding military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Apart from the rare example of Texas Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, whose presence on the 1960 ticket helped John Kennedy carry Texas, history reveals that vice presidential choices rarely make a major difference. And when they do, if more recent experience is any guide, their effect is more likely to be a drag on the ticket. The ill-fated, quickly reversed choice of Thomas Eagleton in 1972, for example, undoubtedly hindered George McGovern's already-uphill challenge to President Nixon.

More recently, the not-ready-for-prime-time vice presidential candidacies of Rep. Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Sen. Dan Quayle in 1988 were both widely perceived, and accurately so, as detrimental to the their parties' tickets. On the other hand, the 1988 election also confirmed the recent inability of vice presidential candidates to make a significantly positive contribution to the ticket. That year, moderate Texas Democratic Sen. Lloyd Bentsen was selected as the Democratic running mate in part to balance the avowed liberalism of Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. Arguably one of the most well-received vice presidential candidates in post-World War II history who had the added benefit of scoring a TKO against Mr. Quayle in a debate, Mr. Bentsen nonetheless failed to bring along his home state. The Dukakis-Bentsen ticket lost Texas by nearly 700,000 votes despite the fact that Mr. Bentsen simultaneously won re-election to his Senate seat by more than 1 million votes.

The chief Dukakis-Bentsen lesson is that vice presidential candidates cannot be counted on to carry their home states unless those states are likely to vote that way in any event. Indeed, prior to the Democratic primaries last year, none other than John Kerry himself was overheard mocking Mr. …