But the odds are far worse for the vice presidential nominee on a losing ticket. Only one, Franklin Roosevelt, who was James Cox’s vice presidential choice in 1920, went on to be elected president — and that wasn’t until 12 years later.
In fact, only one other losing vice presidential nominee later won his party’s presidential nod: Bob Dole, Gerald Ford’s running mate in 1976. And Dole did not become the Republican presidential nominee until his third try, when he lost to President Bill Clinton in 1996.
Being the losing vice presidential candidate can end a promising political career, though not all have such a comedown as Palin, who later resigned as governor, or John Edwards, who’s been tarnished by a high-profile affair and a criminal trial. Still, the prospects for a losing vice presidential pick are glum enough that potential nominees might heed Daniel Webster, who declined the offer to run for vice president several times, saying: “I do not propose to be buried until I am dead.”
2. A vice presidential nominee’s most important role is to balance the ticket.
This is true sometimes, as when a young and relatively inexperienced Barack Obama picked 36-year Senate veteran Joe Biden in 2008, or when Washington insider Dick Cheney suggested himself to George W. Bush in 2000 to counterbalance Bush’s perceived lack of gravitas and foreign policy experience.
But one of the most successful contemporary political pairings was of two wonkish, 40-something, white Southerners: Clinton and Al Gore in 1992. Gore’s selection reinforced the message of generational change that Clinton wanted to send as he unseated the last president of the World War II generation, George H.W. Bush.
Clinton and Gore also reported that they had great “chemistry” and enjoyed campaigning together, qualities said to also be high on Romney’s list. But will he find his political soul mate in someone comfortably familiar, such as Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, or someone younger and ideologically edgier, such as Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin?
3. A vice presidential nominee can carry a key swing state.
This has not happened since 1960, when Lyndon Johnson, ahem, helped John Kennedy win Texas. But that was a time when political machines (or chicanery, in the case of the 1960 voting fraud allegations) could still have a major impact on turnout.
Since then, presidential nominees have generally ignored this consideration, or, if they have tried to heed it, it has not worked. Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis attempted to revive the Kennedy-Johnson “Boston-Austin Axis” in 1988, but having Sen. Lloyd Bentsenon the ticket could not make Texas a Democratic state again. Nor could Edwards deliver North Carolina for John Kerry in 2004.