TONIGHT, Democrats nominate Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore Jr. as
Bill Clinton's running mate, an effort to reinforce a new moderate
look for the party.
Traditionally, running mates matter little to the outcome of
But 1992 is not a traditional election year. With three major
candidates in the race, small margins become more critical and Mr.
Gore may be somewhat more significant in the campaign than vice
presidential candidates usually are.
One reason is the high profile of Vice President Dan Quayle.
Unusually controversial, Mr. Quayle has become the White House's
aggressive campaigner, notes former Democratic national chairman
John White. "So it's very important that you have somebody who can
go belt-buckle to belt-buckle with the vice president," he said at
a Monitor luncheon here.
Gore and Quayle also make a classic left-right matchup on the
environment. Gore has impeccable credentials as an
environmentalist. He wrote a well-reviewed book on the subject and
led the Senate delegation to the United Nation's environmental
summit in Rio de Janeiro last month.
Quayle has made a crusade of defending the economy against
environmental regulation. He has used a White House council he
chairs to sharply prune the sweep of rules and regulations, much to
the consternation of environmentalists in Congress and some federal
The debate they will inevitably hold this fall may generate
strong public interest. Yet the potential political impact is more
risk than opportunity.
"Generally speaking," says Paul Light, a University of Minnesota
political scientist who has studied the vice presidency, "vice
presidential candidates can hurt more than they can help."
Polls over the decades show that vice-presidential candidates
can deliver potentially 1 to 3 percentage points to the national
vote total, says Dr. Light.
More likely, a vice presidential candidate who is an asset to
his running mate adds a percentage point "here and there" to his
But in a three-way race, adds Light, "the margins can be very,
very tight" and the difference could be critical.
Four years ago, Quayle was clearly a drag on the Republican
ticket after his scathing introduction to the public through
charges of Vietnam avoidance, never substantiated, and pampered
inexperience. His public image was dismal. A Gallup post-election
study concluded that he probably cost the Bush ticket 2 percentage
points from its winning margin.
And the contrast between Quayle's image of callow youth and that
of his opposite, the suave veteran Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas,
could hardly have been sharper, notes Bill McInturff, a Republican
The vice-presidential contenders could also leap to an unusual
prominence if it appears that Ross Perot, Mr. …