Jewish World Review March 1, 2004 / 8 Adar, 5764

Carl P. Leubsdorf

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Voting for veep? | Alhough John Kerry still is busy trying to finish off John Edwards for the Democratic presidential nomination, speculation already has started: Will the two end up together on the party ticket this fall?

And on the Republican side, so many stories have appeared about whether Dick Cheney has become a political liability that President Bush went out of his way this week to stress he won't replace him with a less controversial running mate.

Most of those spreading vice-presidential speculation don't have a clue how it will come out.

But here is something to remember: Since Lyndon Johnson helped to elect John Kennedy in 1960, there is no evidence of a candidate for vice president determining the outcome of an election.

Al Gore helped to reinforce Bill Clinton's new generation appeal in 1992, and Cheney offset Bush's lack of Washington experience in 2000. But there is no statistical evidence that either added votes.

Still, the choice of a political partner tells a lot about a presidential candidate. And some factors are important, especially for the nominee of the challenging party.

He needs someone whom pundits will label as qualified. The day is past when a nominee could get away with a blatantly political choice who had questionable presidential qualifications, such as Spiro Agnew in 1968 or Geraldine Ferraro in 1984. The public and the pundits expect a candidate who can pass muster. That explains the talk about Edwards and Dick Gephardt, two of Kerry's presidential rivals, or Bill Richardson, who has a long record in Congress, the executive branch and state government.

A running mate has to be quick on his feet and experienced enough to match up well against his counterpart in their most publicized campaign moment, the vice-presidential debate. Few if any Democrats match up better with Cheney than Edwards: younger, livelier and with a background of legal fights against companies like Halliburton, which Cheney once ran.

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The person must not have any personal or financial skeletons. Candidates can't afford the kind of controversy that forced Thomas Eagleton off George McGovern's ticket in 1972 and crippled Ferraro's place alongside Walter Mondale in 1984. That's why presidential candidates conduct intensive background checks on prospective running mates. It also is why the safest choice might be someone like Edwards or Gephardt, who underwent scrutiny while running for president.

For the incumbent's party, the choice of selecting a running mate is easier. Is it worth replacing the known with the unknown? Over the last half-century, the answer almost always has been "no."

While there often have been rumors that vice presidents might be dumped, presidents since Franklin D. Roosevelt almost always have found it easier to keep a running mate than pick a new one and exacerbate internal party strains.

The exception was Gerald Ford, an unelected president, who dropped Nelson Rockefeller to help head off Ronald Reagan's conservative challenge in the 1976 election. Otherwise, he might not have been nominated, though his new running mate, Bob Dole, later created problems in a close election.

Most presidents are loyal to their running mates, and that clearly is true with Bush and Cheney. Only a genuine health problem would prompt the president to consider a change.

None of this will diminish the amount of ink, paper, airtime and blogging that will be devoted to speculation over the coming months.

But in the end, Bush almost certainly will run with Cheney. And Kerry, assuming he wins the nomination, will pick a well-known, established running mate.

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Carl P. Leubsdorf is Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Comment by clicking here.


09/05/03: As debates begin, Democrats likely to shuffle positions
08/29/03: Will 2008 see a Clinton-Hutchison presidential contest?
08/01/03: Dems risk loss if they heed special interests
07/18/03: Prez not his father's son

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