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Name That Running Mate
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, November 12, 1999

More questions have come in to "Political Junkie" on prospective vice-presidential candidates than any others. Since the April 30 column, which touched on the subject, I've received more than 100 e-mails on whom the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees might pick.

Question: What's the chance of a woman being nominated for vice president in 2000? Who are some of the leading contenders from both parties? – Paul Feiner, Greenburgh, N.Y.

Answer: The one time a major-party nominee picked a woman running mate was in 1984, when Democrat Walter Mondale, trailing President Reagan in the polls, selected Rep. Geraldine Ferraro (D-N.Y.). Women were ecstatic, activists were thrilled, and the Mondale-Ferraro ticket went on to lose 49 of the 50 states. Ferraro was not the reason for the landslide defeat, but there's no evidence she helped the ticket either.

A popular choice, but is it necessary? (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Although the next presidential election is a long way off, Republicans do not seem to need to make such a dramatic gesture (unless they did it for for non-symbolic reasons). George W. Bush still leads the races for both for the nomination and the general election. Unlike Mondale, he is not 17 points behind and needs to throw a Hail Mary. Plus, Bush polls well among women (and, at least in this early stage, better than Al Gore), so he may not need to go that route.

Still, if he were to name a woman running mate it would almost have to be Elizabeth Dole. Since her withdrawal from the presidential race last month, a Bush-Dole ticket has been the subject of more speculation than any other Republican pairing. Dole is widely believed to be much better in a supporting role (as she was in campaigning for her husband in 1988 and '96) than as a candidate, but being vice president is different than being a supportive spouse.

Most of the other female GOP elected officials with national recognition, such as Gov. Christie Whitman (N.J.) or Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine), are strongly pro-choice, which would be unacceptable to the Republican delegates assembled in Philadelphia.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) is the name most mentioned, man or woman. She insists that she is focusing only on her reelection bid next year, a race that could prove difficult. But she's been on this road before, making it to the finals in '84 before Mondale settled on Ferraro, and she knows not to get her hopes up. Another possible female running mate is New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. But that may not make much sense, as Shaheen has been embroiled in a fracas over taxes and her state brings only four electoral votes to the table.

No other female Democrats have been mentioned regularly, though Rebecca Sager of Austin, Tex., wrote that she's heard scuttlebutt about her state's former governor, Ann Richards. And Arlene Hawkridge of Chestertown, Md., inquired about the possibility of Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Neither one seems plausible (not that they are angling for it), and Townsend is busy plotting a 2002 gubernatorial campaign.

Non-female Democratic possibilities include Sen. Evan Bayh (Ind.) and outgoing North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt. On the GOP side, there are more choices. If we assume a Bush nomination (and granted, not everyone assumes that), there's Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), Gov. Tom Ridge (Pa.) and retiring Rep. John Kasich (Ohio), among others.

This is obviously a fun exercise, but it would make more sense to wait until we know who the presidential nominees are before speculating on who their running mates might be.

Question: With both Bush and Gore taking predictably centrist positions on many issues, do you agree that their V.P. choices will be very important? – Brian Berwick, Indianapolis, Ind.

Answer: The fact is that few people go into the voting booth and decide which lever to pull based on the vice-presidential nominee. Bob Dole was no help to President Ford in 1976, and most people agree that Spiro Agnew and Dan Quayle were respective drags on Richard Nixon in 1968 and George Bush in 1988. But each election had other determining factors. Perhaps the only time in recent history in which a running mate made a big difference was in 1960, when Sen. Lyndon Johnson's presence on the Democratic ticket helped carry crucial Southern states and, ultimately, John F. Kennedy into the White House.

Question: Will the selection of the V.P. nominees be an issue in the primaries? – Curtis Dabros, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Naming a running mate before he won the nomination didn't help Reagan in 1976. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Answer: No, for the same reasons as I mentioned above. But if one of the presidential candidates announces a running mate well before the convention to sway delegates, that could make things interesting. That's what Ronald Reagan tried to do in 1976, when he named Pennsylvania Sen. Richard Schweiker as his choice prior to the GOP convention. Reagan made the move for two reasons: to show he was not ideologically rigid, and to get a foothold in the Pennsylvania delegation. But he failed on both counts. The targeted delegates stuck with President Ford, and baffled conservatives criticized Reagan for choosing Schweiker, who was one of the most liberal Republicans in the Senate.

Question: Would Bill Bradley accept the vice-presidential nomination if it were offered to him? – John Chuke, Gaithersburg, Md.

Answer: He's already said he would not, and truth be told, a Gore-Bradley ticket may not be the spark the Democrats need to retain the White House for another four years. But if Gore as the nominee told Bradley that their running together was the only thing that could save the party, Bradley would be expected to entertain the idea. For the record, here are the times this century when rivals for the nomination joined together to form a ticket (* denotes favorite-son candidate only):

Year Party Pres. Nominee VP Nominee
1980 Republican Ronald Reagan George Bush
1960 Democrat John Kennedy Lyndon Johnson
1956 Democrat Adlai Stevenson Estes Kefauver
1948 Republican Thomas Dewey Earl Warren*
1936 Republican Alf Landon Frank Knox
1932 Democratic Franklin Roosevelt John Nance Garner
1928 Republican Herbert Hoover Charles Curtis
1916 Republican Charles Evans Hughes Charles Fairbanks
1912 Democratic Woodrow Wilson Thomas Marshall*

(NOTE: The 1996 GOP ticket of Bob Dole and Jack Kemp marked the only time when two unsuccessful rivals from an earlier election joined forces to form a ticket.)

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 1999 Ken Rudin

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