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    Send your questions about campaigns and elections.
    Extremism in Defense of This Column is No Vice

    By Ken Rudin
    Special to
    Friday, July 2, 1999

    Question: Have any 20th century veeps been openly defiant of or worked quietly to subvert the policies of their presidential bosses? – Michael Bishop, Atlanta, Ga.

    Answer: Nothing is as complex as the relationship between a commander in chief and his vice president. We watched Hubert Humphrey try to remain loyal to Lyndon Johnson over Vietnam while running his own presidential bid in 1968. We saw George Bush try to argue that he was "out of the loop" during Ronald Reagan's 1987 stewardship of Iran-Contra, even though signs of his fingerprints were on the deal. Bill Clinton reportedly is furious with Al Gore for publicly criticizing his lapses of judgment as Gore tries to break free and seek office on his own, even though they were considered extremely close for seven years.

    But no vice president this century has been as "openly defiant" toward his boss as John Nance Garner, who was elected twice with Franklin D. Roosevelt but split with him in 1940, when Roosevelt sought an unprecedented third term. Garner was a very effective vice president, using his Capitol Hill clout to help push the New Deal through Congress. But tensions developed between the two men. The more conservative Garner opposed FDR's recognition of Russia, his plan to pack the Supreme Court and his 1938 campaign to purge Democrats whose loyalty he questioned. Roosevelt began to exclude Garner from policy decisions. When Roosevelt demurred on running for a third term in 1940, Garner jumped into the fray. But the situation in Europe convinced FDR to run. Garner campaigned aggressively against Roosevelt's third-term bid, but FDR easily won renomination at the convention.

    Question: Do you think Vice President Gore will have to settle for a third or fourth choice of running mates because leading contenders may consider him too tainted by his links to China and Clinton? – Ron Hatcher, Indianapolis, Ind.

    George McGovern had a tough time finding a V.P. in 1972 until Sargent Shriver finally said yes. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
    Answer: While a lot may depend on next summer's polls, it's hard to see anyone turning down the nomination once it's offered. Even Walter Mondale, the 1984 Democratic presidential nominee who at his own party's convention was considered a long shot to defeat President Reagan, had a slew of would-be running mates who would have been only too happy to say yes.

    Still, some have turned down the opportunity. Nelson Rockefeller said no to Richard Nixon in 1960. Everyone, it seemed at the time, turned down George McGovern in 1972, especially after Thomas Eagleton was forced from the ticket and the Democrats looked as though they were heading toward disaster (which they were). Sargent Shriver, the eventual running mate, was rumored to be McGovern's seventh choice.

    Question: After gaining the release of our prisoners of war from Kosovo, Jesse Jackson is looking a lot like a good vice presidential candidate. He has good name recognition and (probably most important), didn't he beat Gore in the 1988 Democratic presidential primaries? He is a proven vote-getter. Maybe even better than Gore. – Nate Livingston, Cincinnati, Ohio

    Freeing American soldiers is not new for Jackson, who persuaded Syria to release downed Navy flier Robert Goodman in 1984. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
    Answer: Without debating Jackson's vote-getting abilities, there is no conceivable way he will be named to the ticket. He did manage to free the three soldiers, a task that perhaps no one else could have accomplished. But when he met with Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, Jackson argued a course diametrically opposed to the one pursued by the Clinton administration. He called the bombing campaign immoral, insisting it would never lead to Milosevic's surrender (which is precisely what happened), and his go-it-alone diplomacy obviously offended the State Department. Jackson may have helped the White House during the Lewinsky headache, when he met and prayed with the first family. But he was less useful during the Kosovo headache, when he met and prayed with Milosevic. It was no coincidence that the most lavish praise for Jackson's mission came from GOP congressional leaders who opposed Clinton's war effort, such as Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). Lott and DeLay are more likely to make it on the Democratic ticket than Jackson.

    But you are right about Jackson and Gore during the 1988 primaries. Jackson won nearly 6.8 million votes in the primaries that year; Gore won just over three million. Gore won five primaries (Arkansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Tennessee), along with caucuses in Wyoming and Nevada. Jackson won seven primaries (Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Virginia, Puerto Rico and D.C.) and seven caucuses (Texas, Alaska, South Carolina, Michigan, Virgin Islands, Delaware and Vermont).

    Question: I think the people touting Sen. Dianne Feinstein for vice president (see April 30 column) are forgetting something very important – she is running for reelection to the U.S. Senate in 2000 and would likely have to leave the Senate race to make the race for vice president. If a viable Republican challenged Feinstein's Senate reelection bid next year, she would be too distracted to also run for vice president. – Jonathon Lack, Anchorage, Alaska

    Answer: The key to this equation is your last sentence. I agree with you: If Feinstein found herself in a tight reelection bid, the Democrats would be forced to look elsewhere to fill the vice presidential slot. But thus far, there is no sign that a "viable" Republican will challenge her for the Senate. State insurance commissioner Chuck Quackenbush is hinting that he may run, and while he may be able to put up a fight, it's hard to call him a threat. (Still, as a statewide elected official, he should not be dismissed.) Polls indicate other Republicans, such as San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn and state Sen. Ray Haynes, fare even worse. So if DiFi is safe at home, she could prove a very attractive running mate for either Gore or Bradley. Under state law, Feinstein could seek reelection to the Senate and run for vice president. And if the Democrats kept the White House, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis would simply appoint a new senator.

    One caveat to all this is Feinstein's husband, Richard Blum, whose business dealings have long been an issue in her campaigns. Davis, running against Feinstein in the 1992 Senate primary, targeted Blum in one memorable TV ad. Democrats, well familiar with how the choice of Geraldine Ferraro backfired in 1984 after the business dealings of her husband, John Zaccaro, became a central issue, will make sure Blum checks out before they ever put Feinstein on the ticket.

    Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin:

    Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of's ScuttleButton contest.

    © Copyright 1999 Ken Rudin

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