They're No. 2! And Here's How They Got There.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

How do presidential nominees choose their running mates? What combination of personal chemistry, political calculation and policy competence comes into play? The following accounts of choosing and prepping vice presidential candidates over the past 40 years offer some unusual answers. They're taken from interviews with senior campaign officials conducted by the Presidential Oral History Program at the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs, provided by program chairman Russell L. Riley. The full texts may be found on the center's Web site at

Richard V. Allen on tutoring Spiro Agnew as Richard Nixon's running mate in 1968: I had the joy of providing [Agnew] with his first foreign policy briefing, which was a hoot. . . . We sat in beach chairs out on the beach, with a map of the world on the ground and four stones holding the map down, and I with a pointer and Agnew in the chair wearing shorts, very casual.

Before I started the briefing, he said, "You know, I want to tell you something, Dick. I've never been out of the country before, except to go to Greece, and I came straight back."

And I said, "Well, that's going to complicate things a little bit, so I'm going to take you through the world, a tour d'horizon, and I'm going to tell you what our policy is in each area. . . ." I got down to South Africa, I had my pointer, I said, "Okay, now we come down here." He said, "Don't tell me. I think I know this one. . . . That's a black government, right?" Well, it surely wasn't a black government in 1968. And so we had to walk back from that one.

Martin Anderson on Gerald Ford contemplating Ronald Reagan as his running mate in 1976: A call came in from Ford's suite from Dick Cheney . . . chief of staff for Ford. And [John] Sears took the call, and basically Ford wanted to meet with Reagan. Sears tells Reagan . . . "The president wants to meet with you." Reagan says, "No . . . he wants to meet me, he's going to ask me to be vice president, and I don't want to be vice president. And I don't want to tell him no, so I'm not going to meet with him." So Sears got back on the phone, explains to Cheney. . . .

A little while later, Cheney called back and said, "Look, Ford promises he will not ask him to be vice president." So Sears tells Reagan, and Reagan said, "He promises? . . . Okay, I'll meet with him." . . . So then, the next night, Ford picked [Bob] Dole. . . .

I went up to Reagan. . . . I said, "Let me ask you a hypothetical. The other night, when you went in and sat down with Ford, what would have happened if, when you got in the room, the door shut, and there was just the two of you, and Ford had said, 'Now look, I don't give a damn what I promised, but what the polls are showing clearly is that if you go on the ticket with me, we beat Jimmy Carter. And if you don't go on the ticket, Jimmy Carter may win, and it's your damn fault.' "

Reagan said, "Well, I would have gone on the ticket."

Richard Moe on Walter Mondale's decision to become Jimmy Carter's running mate in 1976: One day Mondale, [former vice president Hubert] Humphrey and I had coffee in the Senate dining room, and Mondale asked Humphrey right out, "Is this something I really should be interested in? You've been through all this, and what do you think?"

And Humphrey, without hesitating, said, "Absolutely. The vice presidency is the greatest experience I've ever had in my life. For all the suffering that Lyndon Johnson put me through, and believe me there was a lot of it, and all the humiliation, this is the most rewarding experience you can have. You'll learn more about this country and about this world and you'll have a greater impact on public policy than you ever can in the United States Senate . . . ."

Mondale ultimately did it because he knew that, number one, it would be a great education for him, and, number two, that it gave him a potential opportunity to impact on public policy, which is what he really cares about.

Lyn Nofziger on Reagan's 1980 choice of George H.W. Bush: [Dick Wirthlin] had done some polling, and he said, "My polls show that there are three people who can help you: Gerald Ford, George Bush, Howard Baker."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company