A Time to Gain, a Time to Lose

Aug. 18, 1988: Vice President George Bush, right, and running mate Sen. Dan Quayle (Ind.) at the Republican National Convention.
Aug. 18, 1988: Vice President George Bush, right, and running mate Sen. Dan Quayle (Ind.) at the Republican National Convention. (By Scott Applewhite -- Associated Press)
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By Chris Cillizza
Sunday, July 27, 2008

The political class churned itself into a tizzy last week over when Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama would officially announce their vice presidential picks.

The Fix -- always and forever a student of political history -- wondered when past vice presidential picks had been unveiled. With the help of researcher extraordinaire Lucy Shackelford, we were able to look at the timing of each choice over the past two decades in relation to the parties' national conventions.

Of the seven vice presidential picks over the last 20 years, only one came after the start of a national party convention. That was in 1988, when then Vice President George H.W. Bush chose Sen. Dan Quayle (Ind.) on Aug. 16, a day after the GOP convention began in New Orleans.

The longest span between a vice presidential selection and a convention was in 2004, when Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) named Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) on July 6 -- 20 days before the Democratic convention opened in Boston. At least part of the reason for the early announcement was that Kerry had effectively won his party's nod in early February, and speculation had reached critical mass by July 4.

Typically, however, the veep choice has come just days before the opening of the convention in an attempt to build excitement, anticipation and favorable media coverage in advance of the party gathering. In 2000, George W. Bush surprised the political world by naming vice presidential vetter Dick Cheney as his choice six days before the Republican convention in Philadelphia. Four years earlier, Sen. Bob Dole chose Jack Kemp just three days before the convention. Bill Clinton's widely lauded choice of then-Sen. Al Gore (Tenn.) came four days before the Democratic National Convention.

How much does the timing of the vice presidential announcement matter this election?

Quite a bit for McCain and not nearly as much for Obama, said Republican strategist Alex Vogel. "The timing for Obama's pick is not nearly as big an issue as it is for McCain," Vogel said. "As long as he doesn't step on a gold medal ceremony or his own convention press, [Obama] will own the news when he announces his veep."

Gopher, Not Gofer

Leave it to a bunch of Harvard undergrads to educate the American public about where Obama and McCain stand on the issues.

Led by Will Ruben (Harvard 2010 -- how depressing!), the group has developed a Web site called where any Joe Public can explore the positions of Obama and McCain on matters including the war in Iraq and education policy. The site also has videos of about three minutes using clips of the candidates' own remarks on each issue. Want to find out which candidate you are more in tune with on all 25 issues highlighted by the site? Click on the "My Ballot" feature, and the site will guide you through an issue-based choice between Obama and McCain. There is also a blog feature that keeps users up to date on the news and views of import to the college set.

Ruben, the founder and chief executive of VoteGopher, called the site a "one-stop resource for organizing non-partisan information on the 2008 presidential elections." The goal, Ruben added, is to "bring you concise coverage of what really matters when casting your vote: the issues."

Ruben began work on VoteGopher out of his dorm room in the summer of 2007 and, after winning Harvard's Innovation Challenge -- and the $10,000 prize that went with it -- retooled the entire site with the help of nine friends and relaunched it last week. "I saw a void in the election coverage and thought it would be an exciting challenge to try to fill it," Ruben wrote in an e-mail.

Given the history of undergrads at Harvard -- Bill Gates of Microsoft, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook -- the political world would do well to remember the name Will Ruben.


What do you do after your candidate comes up short in the vice presidential race? Most operatives sign on with the victor or find shelter in any number of consulting groups around Washington. Carolyn Weyforth, deputy communications director for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R), had another idea: She went on tour. Weyforth is spending her summer and fall traveling with the Jonas Brothers, handling press for the teen supergroup, which is currently starring in the Disney smash hit "Camp Rock."

29 days: We are now less than a month away from the start of the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colo. Given the excitement among rank-and-file Democrats about Obama, and the campaign's plan to use Invesco Field for the final night, it should be some show.

36 days: A week later, Republicans convene in St. Paul, Minn., to formally nominate McCain as their standard-bearer. By the time McCain delivers his acceptance speech, there will be just 61 shopping days left before the November election.

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