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March 14, 2013 3:26 PM Why Winning the Veepstakes Really Matters

By Jonathan Bernstein

With Eddie Haskell back in the news with his new House GOP budget, Steve Kornacki had a piece this morning about the history of those who were Veepstakes winners but general election losers. His conclusion: it doesn’t really help them, and may even hurt them.

Ed Kilgore looks at the same examples and interprets it much more favorably for the VP losers.

I’m with Kilgore here. Take, for example, Bob Dole. Sure, he received terrible reviews for his debate performance and his 1980 presidential campaign was a dud. And, yes, his stints as Finance Chair and then GOP Senate Leader certainly helped him in his marathon quest for a GOP nomination. Still, it’s hard to overall say that his career arc was damaged by 1976. It’s not as if he would have had a better chance in 1980 if he wasn’t on the ticket in 1976. And who knows; some of the contacts he made and the experience he earned in 1980 (and even 1976) may well have helped him be a viable candidate in 1988, and then eventually the nominee in 1996.

The easily overlooked point that I’ll add to the discussion is that if Dole, John Edwards, and the rest of them hadn’t been nominated…someone else would have been. Suppose, in 1976, Ford picks Paul Laxalt instead. Laxalt probably wouldn’t have challenged Reagan in 1980, but it’s easy to imagine the national exposure helping him emerge as the mainstream conservative alternative to Bush in 1988, no? At any rate, it surely would have elevated a potential Dole rival. The same would be true had John Kerry selected Joe Biden or Bill Richardson in 2004; if either of them had come even a little closer to the top tier in 2008, it might well have made it harder for Edwards to get as far as he did. And the same is true of the one that Kornacki leaves out, Ed Muskie. Like Edwards, he wound up as a serious candidate who fell far short; like Edwards, he probably was helped not only by being on the ticket, but by blocking some other politician with a similar profile getting the VP nomination instead of him.

The only real exception, I think, is the Gerry Ferraro one — not because things didn’t work out for her as a national politician, but because (as Kornacki points out) that if she had stayed in the House, she might well have wound up high in the leadership, and even Speaker. Giving up a safe seat in the House with a path to the leadership in order to run as VP (assuming you have to give it up, which depends on the state) really does have a major downside risk. For everyone else, however, winning Veepstakes is generally a good move.

[Originally posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.