Both the Democratic and Republican Parties have a discernable history when it comes to selecting their nominees for Vice President. If those histories hold up this time around, the most likely nominees will be Senator Joseph Biden or Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democrats and former Representative Rob Portman for the GOP.
Look at the past Democratic nominees. First, they have nominated Senators for President in 7 of the last 12 elections, since 1960, and they are about to nominate their eighth Senator, Barack Obama in 2008. In eight of those elections, the Democratic ticket has included a Senator as Vice President. In fact, since 1960 – almost 50 years ago – Sargent Shriver, in 1972 and Geraldine Ferraro, in 1988 are the only Democratic Vice Presidential nominees who were not members of the US Senate. Shriver, of course, was the replacement for Senator Eagleton of Missouri who was poorly vetted in 1972 and had to drop out of the race when his history of psychiatric shock treatments came to public light. So, Shriver’s non-Senate credentials hardly count. The same can be said for Ms. Ferraro who was obviously and openly chosen because she was a woman. In 1988 it would have been slim pickings had the Democrats been looking for a VP nominee among female Senators.
For nearly 50 years the Democratic Party has looked to the US Senate for its Vice Presidents. And it has especially sought out well-known, popular and active Senators, politicians with their own constituencies, many with personal histories of seeking the Presidency themselves. Examine the list: Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Lloyd Bentson, Al Gore, Joseph Lieberman and John Edwards – all national figures with Presidential ambitions.
The current pundits make a big deal of the party’s interest in Governors as potential VP nominees. They stress the administrative experience Governors have that other legislators lack. And they talk about bringing “swing states” into the Electoral fold. But the history of who actually gets nominated doesn’t jibe with that analysis. In the last 100 years, the Democrats have nominated only 5 Governors for Vice President: John Kerr of Indiana in 1908, Thomas Marshall, also of Indiana in 1912, FDR of New York in 1920, Charles Byron of Nebraska in 1924 and Joseph Robinson from Arkansas in 1928. Well, what’s that mean? It’s been 80 years – 80 years! – since the Democratic Party selected a state Governor to be its Vice Presidential nominee.
The historical odds heavily favor a US Senator in 2008 to be Barack Obama's running mate. If Hillary Clinton brings too much baggage to the table, Joseph Biden fits the historical mold perfectly.
The Republican Party has its own historical trends when it comes to choosing VP nominees. Among them is the “lesser known” quality of the nominee. Put simply, the GOP has a history picking Vice Presidents with slender resumes and little widespread, popular political support. In the last 100 years – since the election of 1908 – the closest the GOP has come to picking a household name for its VP spot was Bob Dole in 1976. And there are those who would say that isn’t very close at all. Earl Warren went on to become the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, but – in 1948, before the TV age - he was a relatively unknown California Governor when Thomas Dewey chose him as his VP. Richard Nixon, was likewise a newcomer to national politics in 1952 when Ike was pretty much forced to swallow him on the ticket.
Like the Democrats, the Republicans give more lip service to Governors than actual votes. In the last 88 years – since 1920 – the GOP has nominated only 4 Governors as Vice President and no one since Spiro Agnew in 1972/1976. They did nominate Calvin Coolidge from Massachusetts in 1920, John Bricker of Ohio in 1944 plus the aforementioned Warren of California and Agnew from Maryland. Perhaps, Agnew’s unseemly end, buried beneath a pile of corruption, some so petty in nature it defies description, is partially responsible for the Republicans looking elsewhere away from the state houses in recent elections.
Unlike the Democrats, who haven’t nominated a member of the House of Representatives for Vice President since John Sparkman of Alabama in 1952 – 56 years ago! – the Republicans seem to like their Congressmen when looking to fill-out the Party’s national ticket. Since choosing Rep. William Miller of New York in 1964, the GOP has elevated George H. W. Bush of Texas, Jack Kemp of New York and Dick Cheney from Wyoming – all of whom served in the Congress – to be their VP nominee.
Those same historical odds that lean toward a Senator for the Democrats, pitch in the direction of the House for the Republican’s running mate, making former Ohio Congressman Rod Portman a likely choice for John McCain in 2008. Given the propensity the Republicans have shown for picking “lesser-lights,” there may someone else in the House, even less well known than Portman, who may soon be the VP choice.