Here are some names to ponder. See how long it takes you to figure out what they have in common:
Thomas Marshall. Charles Fairbanks. Charles Dawes. James Sherman. William R. D. King. Richard Johnson. George Dallas. Daniel Tompkins. Charles Curtis.
Figure it out?
Okay: William Wheeler. Henry Wilson.
Here’s the giveaway: Alben Barkley.
Yes, these are all vice presidents of the United States, mentioned in a Smithsonian article by my friend Tony Horwitz. Tony tells us that vice presidents for much of our history were total zeroes. Until the mid-20th century (Barkley’s era — he was Truman’s veep), vice presidents had almost nothing to do. Some had contempt for the job and were, in turn, held in contempt. None was stranger than Richard Johnson, who left town and opened a hotel and tavern in Kentucky while remaining a heartbeat away from the presidency.
Which gets me thinking about Campaign 2012 for some reason. And veeps, and polls, and the strangely congealed nature of this particular presidential race.
Today’s Washington Post poll shows Obama and Romney tied, with hardly any movement whatsover in public opinion and very few people undecided. Ezra writes: “At this point, Mitt Romney could outsource Seal Team Six to China and it’s not clear even a single voter would change their mind. Barack Obama could peel off his face to reveal he’s a space alien and some of his support would firm up — at least he wasn’t born in Kenya.”
What might change the narrative of this race? Conceivably there could be some movement in the polls when Romney announces his selection of a running mate. Mitch Daniels has to like the fact that, according to Tony’s story, Indiana has already produced five vice presidents. Condi Rice would be an interesting pick and she’s on the list of potential running mates. Marco Rubio is another, and Bobby Jindal, and Chris Christie.
Usually, though, it doesn’t matter one way or the other, at least after the first couple of weeks of foofaraw and media hype (see: Sarah Palin). We’ve also seen a long-term change in political geography that makes the electorate less easily influenced by the selection of a favorite-son running mate. You can’t pick up a swing state, much less a region, through a vice-presidential pick. Most states aren’t in play at all. The swing states don’t actually have a whole lot of swing voters. We’re polarized and not very ideologically flexible (witness the comments on my global warming item yesterday).
The argument could be made that nothing from here on in will make a big difference other than, maybe, the debates this fall. But what do you bet that won’t be a game-changer, either?
Heck, go ahead and hold the election. Now.
And then we can all go an extended vacation.