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The Significance of the V.P. Pick
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, July 14, 2000

Itís getting close to the point when George W. Bush and Al Gore will be naming their running mates. Send your predictions to junkie@washingtonpost.com.

Question: How important of a role will the running mates have for both the Bush and Gore presidential bids? – Jason J. Marin, Washington, D.C.

Answer: Running mates have played various roles over the years, depending on their personality, reason for being selected, and so on. Some were chosen to carry geographic areas, some to balance the ticket ideologically. Richard Nixon (1952), Spiro Agnew (1968) and Bob Dole (1976) were used primarily as partisan warriors while the heads of their respective Republican tickets ran somewhat above the fray.

Some say that Al Gore has been his own attack dog for most of the year and would thus not need to name an overly aggressive choice to fill his ticket. Contrast that with George W. Bush, who has been able to be as caustic as Gore but usually with a smile and without the rancor of Gore. He might need a more partisan running mate in order to continue his "compassionate" candidacy.

Ferraro: A historic VP pick, but no help in November. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
Iíve said this before, but when all is said and done, the vice-presidential selection is rarely what people base their November decision upon. Everybody panned the choice of Dan Quayle in 1988, but remember, the Bush-Quayle ticket won the election by over 7 million votes that year. There were tears of joy following the historic pick of Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, but the Mondale-Ferraro ticket lost 49 out of 50 states in November.

Still, for many voters, the V.P. choice is the first time they take notice of the campaign. And so one would think Gore and Bush would pick someone who will not cause trouble or controversy. Especially with a race that could go down to the wire.

See also:
The Search for a Running Mate (March 17, 2000)
Name That Running Mate (Nov. 12, 1999)
Extremism in Defense of This Column is No Vice (July 2, 1999)

Question: I know that General Colin Powell has said he is not interested in the vice presidency. However, do you think he would reconsider if George W. Bush asked him to take it? I think he would make a great vice president and future president. I wish there were some person who could convince him to run. Any chance of this happening? – Jon Willman

Answer: I think not. Powell has made it clear that he would not take the job if offered, though he has indicated he would be receptive to a Cabinet post. There have been rumors that Bushís father, who is close to Powell, would act as an intermediary to persuade Powell to change his mind, but Bush Senior denied that in a recent interview.

Question: Maine seems to incubate candidates for national office. Just in this season, the vice-presidential great mentioner is talking up both of Maine's senators, its governor, and former senators George Mitchell and William Cohen (currently the Secretary of Defense). What is the origin of the expression "As goes Maine, so goes the nation"? Was Maine at one time the best predictor of the popular vote in presidential elections? – Greg Szafran, Chicago, Ill.

Answer: Iím not sure the names being mentioned as potential vice-presidential running mates are for real. Cohen is a registered Republican who serves in a Democratic Cabinet and who says he will vote for Bush. Mitchell, the former Democratic Senate majority leader, has been out of office for six years. Bush is not going to name a pro-abortion rights running mate, so that eliminates Sens. Olympia Snowe (who is up for reelection this year) and Susan Collins. Gov. Angus King is an independent, and thus is an unlikely match for either of the two major parties. And on the face of it, picking a Maine pol to fill the ticket does not get you much: four electoral votes.

But when Hubert Humphrey selected Maine Sen. Ed Muskie in 1968, he chose a widely respected legislator who ran a very dignified campaign, and it was considered a good move Ė- probably the only positive thing to come out of the Democrats' raucous convention in Chicago. As the first Polish Catholic to appear on the ticket, Muskieís selection might have been an attempt to hold onto white ethnics who were threatening to bolt the Democrats over the race issue. But the ticket ultimately failed.

As for the "As Maine goes ..." expression, there have been numerous tales as to its origin. As for the state being an accurate predictor of presidential elections, that isnít the case, though for the longest time Republicans wished it were so. In the 34 elections between 1856 and 1988, Maine voted Republican all but three times (1912, 1964 and 1968). Of course, after GOP presidential nominee Alf Landon carried just Maine and Vermont in his hopeless 1936 run against President Franklin Roosevelt, the Democrats came back with the taunt, "As Maine goes, so goes Vermont."

Politically, the slogan stems from the fact that until 1960, Maine always voted in September, not November, giving the state a two-month head start on the rest of the country. The reason for the early vote had something to do with Maineís short harvest season. Thus, "as Maine goes" simply referred to the fact that Maine voted in September while the rest of the country cast ballots in November.

Muskie's victory in September 1958 presaged the national Democratic sweep two months later. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
The last time the state voted early, in 1958, the expression was especially prescient. That year, Muskie, then the governor, became the first popularly elected Democratic senator in the stateís history, unseating GOP incumbent Frederick Payne. Clinton Clausen (D) won the governorship in a major upset. Democrats captured two of the stateís then-three House seats. Two months later, Democrats picked up 17 Senate and 49 House seats. It was truly a case of "As Maine goes, so goes the nation."

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

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

© Copyright 2000 Ken Rudin

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