Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 19, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Al Hunt, commenting on runaway veep speculation:

Over the past 50 years, 17 men and one woman have been chosen by the major parties to run for the vice presidency of the U.S. Only one — Lyndon Johnson in 1960 — demonstrably affected the outcome of the presidential race.

True enough, but veep speculation is also essentially harmless, which gives it a leg up on lots of other press corps obsessions. Hunt goes on to prove this by....speculating about who McCain and Obama will choose as their vice presidents.

Kevin Drum 1:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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I will dare suggest that the selection in 2000 also affected the outcome. Had Bob Graham being the VP nominee would he had not delivered at least 538 more votes in Florida?

Posted by: Raoul on May 19, 2008 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

It seems to be one of the few bedrock rules of politics that the VP doesn't matter, and only a fool would suggest otherwise at a high falutin' cocktail party, but do we really empirically know that this is true? Would Al Gore have won if he chose a VP other than Lieberman? Would Bill Clinton have run if he chose Geraldine Ferraro?

I guess I am just ornery by nature, but I never quite believed this old saw that the VP pick doesn't matter. I, for one, think that if Obama picked Jim Webb, he would win an EASY victory in November. If he picked Clinton, he would motivate the Republicans behind McCain and lose.

Surely we don't _really_ believe that Veep selection is not important. I think it's one of those things that people just say as a matter of course without giving it a lot of thought. I think it is CW that needs to be really examined.

Posted by: BombIranForChrist on May 19, 2008 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

Sitting VP = future Nominee

Obama's choice matters for the NEXT election, not this one. For the last 50 years, if a VP seeks their party's nomination in a later contest, they ALWAYS get it.* They rarely win the general - but they ALWAYS get the nomination.

Please Barack, pick a winner.

* exception: Dan Quayle, for obvious reasons.

Posted by: EthanS on May 19, 2008 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

Demonstrably, huh? Yet the Clinton/Gore team seemed to give Clinton a spark. While Lieberman seemed to pull Gore down. Several vice presidents were connected with humiliating moments in their campaigns. And does anyone yet wonder if Kerry had picked a good old boy southern governor, instead of one more Senate lawyer, it might not have made the difference?

Posted by: catherineD on May 19, 2008 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, there is another: CLinton's choice of Gore. In June 1992, Clinton was running third, behind Bush and Perot in the polls. On the eve of the Democratic convention, in early July, he announced his choice of Al Gore as his V.P.

The all-boomer ticket seems to have electrified the nation. Clinton began gaining in the national polls at the rate of a point a day or more, until by the end of the convention, he held a solid lead over Bush and had essentially knocked Perot out of the running.

Clinton, who had been struggling to finish off primary foes and who had been running poorly against Bush, turned it around completely by picking Gore. The ticket never looked back, nor lost momentum from that moment until the election, which he won in both a popular and electoral vote landslide.

Posted by: Edward Furey on May 19, 2008 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

Veeps since '52

Nixon - won presidency
Johnson - won presidency
Humphrey - won nomination
Agnew - did not seek
Ford - won nomination
Rockefeller - did not seek (but Ford's '76 VP choice Dole DID win nomination)
Mondale - won nomination
Bush - won presidency
Quayle - punchline
Gore - won presidency (nomination)
Cheney - dear lord, please show us mercy

Posted by: EthanS on May 19, 2008 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

i nominate Kevin Drum.

Posted by: cleek on May 19, 2008 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

I think that Obama could well heed Edward Furey's account of the Clinton-Gore situation. It seems to me that in 1992, lots of people were sick and tired of Bush but dubious about Bill Clinton. Something about the choice of Gore resolved many doubts about Clinton. Obama's challenge is similarly to pick someone who makes doubters more comfortable with him. Darned if I know who that is, but I think it has to be someone with some level of national stature.

Posted by: David in NY on May 19, 2008 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

The CW is wrong. Drum is wrong. The VP choice does matter. Not because he/she might bring in a close state or shore up a weakness, but because, as the first significant executive decision, it provides insight into the presidential candidate's priorities and judgment.

Posted by: Nixon Did It on May 19, 2008 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

This year there's a big difference, because of the highly polarized Party. It's not so much that who he picks might effect the outcome as it is that who he *doesn't pick* might effect it.

Posted by: Don on May 19, 2008 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

The candidacy teaming up Tipper Gore and Joe Lieberman chilled me. Not that Gore could have lost California is he was caught diddling any number of White House interns, male or female, in public, swinging from the cables of the Golden Gate Bridge.

But both Tipper and Joe made attacking artists their "thing". And since I make a living in the entertainment industry, I could not vote for the Democratic Presidential candidate in 2000.

So there.

Posted by: anonymous on May 19, 2008 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

Wow, what a list Hunt came up with for Obama. 70-year old Sam Nunn, Biden, Webb, and ... Michael Bloomberg?

I like Jim Webb, except that having two one-term senators would be handing the GOP the "experience" campaign issue. I can easily see Webb's pre-senate experience being forgotten by the media if MCcain repeats that theme often enough.

Posted by: PapaJijo on May 19, 2008 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

You could also make the case that Bob Dole cost the Ford the election in '76. Ford made enough errors on his own. But had Dole not been such an obvious and ineffective hatchet man perhaps Ford could have picked up OH and WI.

Posted by: rk on May 19, 2008 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

Given McCain's age, I'm concerned about the compentence of his VP choice. In particular, I worry that he'll choose Huckaby.

Posted by: David on May 19, 2008 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

His statement is garbage.

How many times did the presidential nominee demonstrably affect the outcome? Oh yeah? Prove it.

Posted by: Jim W on May 19, 2008 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

Webb would work for Obama.

McCan't will probably choose some ridulous person like Agnew or Cheney.

Posted by: Alice on May 19, 2008 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

I nominate Robert Byrd.

Posted by: chance on May 19, 2008 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

I think it would be hard to argue that Cheney didn't help Bush in 2000. And even if I'm wrong, the whole nation learned the word "gravitas".

Posted by: Danp on May 19, 2008 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

I guess Mondale would have lost anyway (though people forget that after the Democratic convention he was actually well ahead of Reagan in polling for a brief period) but Ferraro was a lousy choice and surely cost him votes. Bensen was similarly a bad choice for Dukakis and you could argue that a more vibrant and energetic VP (to counter the dull and workmanlike Duke) could have won him the election in '88. Similarly, I think Dole's choice of Kemp in '96 indicated that the man simply was not serious about the idea of becoming president.

Posted by: Rob Mac on May 19, 2008 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

There have been some very good post-1960 election analyses that convincingly disputes Al Hunt and the assertion LBJ provided the winning margin for Jack Kennedy.

On the one hand, Nixon, Johnson and HW Bush all became prez. On the other: Agnew didn't sink Nixon, nor did Muskie save Humphrey. Quayle didn't hurt HW Bush in '88, nor sink him in '92; nor could Bensen save Dukakis in '88 (talk about the most lopsided contrast, although Muskie and Agnew come close)

Posted by: maxgowan on May 19, 2008 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

The VP pick may not help much, but certainly has the potential to harm, as many of the examples cited above show. Lieberman was a major blunder on Gore's part, and probably cost him the Presidency - almost anyone else would have been better. I think Bush I might have prevailed in 92 without the laughingstock Quayle. And who can forget the Tom Eagleton fiasco of 72 (Ok, a lot of people can, I guess).

Posted by: Virginia on May 19, 2008 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

Ah yes, Tom Eagleton. As in "Volt for Tom Eagleton" Much as I love McGovern, it showed a serious character flaw. He was convinced Ted Kennedy would accept VP - this after Kennedy had, publicly and privately, clearly stated he would not do so. But McGovern could not get his mind wrapped around it. So when Ted said no, they didn't even have a plan B. This is the bid untold story. McGovern would have lost anyway to Nixon, but the point spread could have been very different. The whole Kennedy/Eagleton/Shriver fiasco ensured a landslide defeat.

Dukakis ran such a pathetic campaign - he didn't really even want the job - that even Quayle couldn't help Dukakis.

Much as I love Al Gore, his choosing Lieberman showed for the umpteenth time his poor political judgment. Another Democrat who didn't really want to be president. He's much better in his current role. Year 2000 may be the only year where VP really mattered in the modern era.

Posted by: maxgowan on May 19, 2008 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

speculating about who McCain and Obama will choose as their vice presidents.

Whom, damn you, whom!

Posted by: craigie on May 19, 2008 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

One name I have not heard bandied about but who would be a nice compliment to Obama is Dianne Feinstein, the senior and very experienced Senator from California. She holds great appeal to the Hillary demographic of older women, holds great appeal to Jewish voters (an Obama weakness), has previously served as both mayor of San Francisco and Governor of California, and currently serves on Appropriations, Intelligence, and Judiciary, where she chairs the subcommittee on Terrorism & Homeland Security.

Posted by: mfw13 on May 19, 2008 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

Whoops....Feinstein was never Governor...my mistake.

Posted by: mfw13 on May 19, 2008 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

I can't believe people are claiming Lieberman dragged Gore down. Hello, Lieberman is the reason Gore carried Florida, or would have if not for the butterfly ballot and Katharine Harris. What states did he lose for Gore, who went in to November in a big polling deficit to Bush?

Posted by: Brittain33 on May 19, 2008 at 5:27 PM | PERMALINK

Amen, Brittain33. I know everyone hates Lieberman now, but that really is revisionist history.

At the time, the polling suggested that Lieberman was a positive selection.

http://www.pollingreport.com/wh2vp.htm

Plus, he campaigned hard, positively, and tirelessly for Gore.

Posted by: Marc R on May 19, 2008 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK

My bet is that McCain will pick Lieberman as his VP candidate. McCain needs moderates, people who consider themselves independents, and Democrats, or he is toast. Lieberman (a faux Democrat) fits in perfectly with his strategy -- they are both phoney "mavericks", both hypocrites who will say anything, do anything, to win the White House. A love match!

Posted by: on May 19, 2008 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

Marc R:
How hard could HoJo campaign for Gore when he was also campaigning for his own Senate seat?

Posted by: Joe Klein's conscience on May 19, 2008 at 7:35 PM | PERMALINK

It won't be LIebrerman on McCain's ticket. The right wing - those who actually control the party apparatus - won't stand for it. And McCain is having enough trouble with this bloc. McCain will have to pick someone who the fundamentalists like. Just as long as it's not Jeb Bush.

Posted by: maxgowan on May 19, 2008 at 7:44 PM | PERMALINK

mfw13: What are you smoking? Feinstein is a total sell-out and the very antithesis of what Obama's all about. He won't want a political hack whose rich husband has benefitted mightily from Bush policies. Plus she's a prototypical California leftie with absolutely no national security experience. Oh, yeah, Homeland Security, where she enables the Bush Administration. Feinstein is a lightweight.

Lieberman? As a Dem, I would absolutely love to see Lieberman running as McCain's VP. Lieberman is not a moderate. He is a war-lover, just like McCain. The dream ticket for the Dems.

Posted by: Nixon Did It on May 19, 2008 at 8:14 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks, Brittain33 -- I am really sick of people who seem to think Gore should be burdened with Lieberman's post-2000 sins. At the time Lieberman was considered a bold and popular pick. There wasn't even a hint that he would not prove to be a loyal Democrat until the military-voters gaffe during the recount -- and everyone assumed that was an isolated incident.

There was intense pride in the Jewish community over having Lieberman on the ticket, which turned out many normally-Republican Jews for Gore. This was undoubtedly the reason Gore won Florida (except for the ballot screwups).

Posted by: ColoZ on May 19, 2008 at 8:19 PM | PERMALINK

Add me to the list of people who think it's wrong to say Lieberman cost Gore the election. The reasons to hate Sanctimonious Douchebag Backstabbing Joe are legion, but it's all based on his conduct AFTER the votes were cast.

He was in Florida all the time and helped reel that state in for Gore (his senate race was a complete afterthought), and everyone seems determined to forget that the pick helped reinvigorate Gore's campaign. The media certainly loved the groundbreaking choice of a Jewish running mate.

The race was so close, you can point to anything and say it would have made all the difference. I think any fair account would say Lieberman won far more votes than he cost. And can anyone find a better candidate who may have put another state in play with any certainty? Can you find the Holy Grail candidate that would have put Gore over the top, show your work and justify your argument?

Yeah, his debate performance was underwhelming, but if Gore won the election it would have been a triumph of sober statesmanship.

Now, that asshole did stab Gore in the back as the votes were being counted, but that's another issue...

Posted by: boat shoes on May 19, 2008 at 8:21 PM | PERMALINK

"...having two one-term senators would be handing the GOP the "experience" campaign issue. I can easily see Webb's pre-senate experience being forgotten..."

I think Webb's pre-Senate resume (Marine Corps; Navy Cross, Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, and two Purple Hearts; Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs; Secretary of the Navy; many awards from military and veterans organizations; extensive writings on national security issues) is sufficient to counter attacks on his experience. And, this might be one election cycle in which not having 20 years of experience in Congress is actually a positive.

For a guy who's not running for office at the moment, Webb's media profile has been raised significantly this week, with appearances on the cover of Parade, MTP, and Letterman. If he was angling for consideration as Veep (which he has denied with a smile), then he couldn't do much better.

While I think he'd make an ideal running mate for either Clinton or Obama, there are aspects of his record and positions on issues that would probably give some Dems pause. He could be an effective bulwark against the inevitable smears by the GOP that the Dem nominee is soft on national security issues. McCain and Bush have already tipped their hand in that respect.

If nothing else, I think it's extremely unlikely that he'd respond as passively to Swiftboating as Kerry did.

Posted by: bluestatedon on May 20, 2008 at 1:17 AM | PERMALINK

I remember seeing plenty of Clinton/Gore '92 bumper stickers back then with the "Clinton" part cut off. No way that guy wasn't an asset to the ticket. Clinton took Bush Sr's "young and inexperienced" charge and batted it away as something old people always say when confronted with change, regardless how accurate it is.

For similar reasons, I think Webb is an obvious choice. As Clinton chose to emphasize his youth in '92 by picking Gore, so Obama should emphasize his outside-Washington status by picking someone who has also learned a few things outside capitol hill. This seems to be a natural move for Obama, who likes to take his supposed weaknesses and turn them into assets by not backing down (his approach on Iran, for example).

Webb's comments about women might be a real problem, though. Don't know what to do about that, exactly...

Posted by: sweaty guy on May 20, 2008 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

I've admired Webb since the 80s. Helluva guy. Peerless resume. But he lacks the temperment to be president.

Posted by: maxgowan on May 20, 2008 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

Joe Klein's Conscience-

Do you remember Lieberman spending any time at all "campaigning" for his senate seat in 2000? No, of course not. He was elected by an enormous margin without having to campaign at all.

Sell crazy somewhere else. We're not buying here.

Posted by: Marc R on May 20, 2008 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK
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