The Parties' Temptations; Ask Urself: Have You Ever Voted-Have You Ever Met Anyone Who Voted-For a Presidential Candidate Because of His Running Mate?

Newsweek, February 2, 2004 | Go to article overview

The Parties' Temptations; Ask Urself: Have You Ever Voted-Have You Ever Met Anyone Who Voted-For a Presidential Candidate Because of His Running Mate?


Byline: George F. Will

British prime minister David Lloyd George, asked about the probable place in history of one of his eminent contemporaries (Arthur Balfour), replied, "He will be just like the scent on a pocket handkerchief." This is written as New Hampshire is clearing its throat and preparing to roar, which is a good time to remember the evanescence of many political things--candidacies, tactics and promises, too.

Some Democrats have been busy counting chickens before they are hatched. Capricious New Hampshire had not yet made its decision when some Democrats began musing about a John Kerry-John Edwards ticket. That, said the musers, would confound Republicans in November by picking the lock the GOP has on most of the 168 electoral votes of the 11 states of the Confederacy plus Kentucky and Oklahoma. There are two large problems with this.

First, the political potency of vice presidential candidates usually is about as minuscule as the formal duties of a vice president. Ask yourself: Have you ever voted--have you ever even met anyone who voted--for a presidential candidate because of his running mate? Perhaps Lyndon Johnson turned the 1960 election by helping John Kennedy carry Texas. But name another time a vice presidential candidate clearly mattered.

The second problem with the Kerry- Edwards scenario is that Edwards represents the Democrats' Southern temptation. The paradox is: If Edwards on the ticket can give the Democrats significant numbers of Southern electoral votes, the ticket will be so strong elsewhere that the Southern votes will not be needed.

Republicans have something comparable to the Democrats' Southern temptation--a California temptation. With Arnold Schwarzenegger bestriding Sacramento, and the state's Democrats demoralized and in disarray, Republicans are daring to dream that they can capture California's 55 electoral votes--more than one fifth of the total needed to win the White House. Without those 55, Democrats have no chance of winning. The Republicans' California temptation is, today at least, more than merely wishful thinking, for four reasons.

First, a George W. Bush campaign aide says Bush's approval among Hispanics in California--and nationally--is as high as or higher than his approval among Anglos. (This might become an argument for Democrats to make New Mexico's Gov. Bill Richardson, an Hispanic, their vice presidential nominee.)

Second, California's swoon for Schwarzenegger indicates a hankering for forceful leadership. Even most people who dislike the direction in which Bush is leading say he is (alarmingly) forceful. …

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