Vice Presidential Candidate a Political and Personal Decision
By Michelle Austein
During the 2008 primaries and caucuses, record numbers of Americans cast ballots for the presidential nominees. But only one person's vote matters when vice presidential candidates are being considered.
U.S. vice presidential candidates are selected by the presidential nominees. The nominee might get help from others, but ultimately he makes a political and personal decision, Leonard Steinhorn, professor of communication at American University in Washington, told America.gov.
"This gives us a bit of a window into [the presidential candidates'] thinking and the types of judgments they have about people," Steinhorn said.
A presidential nominee selects his running mate before the national conventions. Democrats will hold their convention in Denver August 25 to 28 and Republicans will gather in Minneapolis-St. Paul September 1 to 4.
A presidential nominee considers many factors when selecting a running mate, including how a candidate can help the campaign and how he or she would handle running the country if the president could not.
Often candidates consider how a vice presidential nominee from a region or background different from that of the presidential nominee could attract voters by "balancing the ticket." Running mates with political viewpoints that differ somewhat from the presidential nominee can balance a ticket as well.
In 2004, John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina ran as the Democratic presidential and vice presidential nominees. Edwards had sought the presidency, and Kerry's campaign hoped adding Edwards to the ticket would bring in Edwards' supporters.
"But there are always exceptions to the rule," Steinhorn said. In 1992, Democrat Bill Clinton of Arkansas selected Al Gore, a senator from Tennessee and "another Southern moderate."
Sometimes party leaders pressure the presumed presidential nominee to pick a running mate who they feel can offset a nominee's weaknesses. For example, a presidential candidate with little foreign policy expertise might be encouraged to select a running mate who has done extensive work overseas.
Despite these pressures, "a lot really depends on the individual candidate," Steinhorn said, "and who they want as one of their top persons in their administration."
As the candidate ponders his options, he will get help from a team that develops a list of candidates, conducts preliminary interviews and completes exhaustive background checks to identify weaknesses that could hurt the campaign.
Such a team might make surprising recommendations; alternatively, a candidate can choose someone the team did not consider. In 2000, George W. Bush surprised many when he selected Dick Cheney, the head of his vice presidential search team, to be his running mate.
The vice presidential candidate's role on the campaign trail varies, but there is often a "good cop, bad cop" routine the running mates play, Steinhorn said. The vice presidential candidate can attack the opponent while the presidential nominee remains above the fray. "If you want to act presidential ... you don't want to sound negative," he said.
NEWS MEDIA ABUZZ WITH VICE PRESIDENTIAL SPECULATION
In the months between the primaries and the national conventions, U.S. news media airwaves are filled with speculation over who presumed presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama will pick to be their running mates.
Both men are receiving lots of advice. Many Republicans have encouraged McCain to consider former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who could attract conservative voters despite their reservations about the Arizona senator. Romney also is considered very knowledgeable on economic issues, a topic on which some feel McCain lacks expertise. Another potential running mate with strong economic experience is businesswoman Carly Fiorina, whose gender could "create buzz," Steinhorn said.
Romney, as a former governor, also would bring executive experience to a ticket headed by a candidate who has spent his political career in the U.S. Senate. Other governors mentioned as potential McCain running mates include Louisiana's Bobby Jindal and Florida's Charlie Crist.
Another potential running mate, cited by Republican strategist Karl Rove as a "long shot," is independent Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, who frequently campaigns with McCain. Lieberman ran for vice president in 2000 as a Democrat with presidential nominee Al Gore.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's withdrawal from the race in June triggered immediate calls to name her Obama's running mate. Clinton supporters said adding her to the ticket would encourage Hispanics, women and other groups of Clinton fans to vote for Obama in November.
"She showed herself to be a compelling campaigner. .... [Obama] knows she's tested on the campaign trail," Steinhorn said. However, by choosing Clinton, Obama risks sharing the limelight with his running mate and her husband, Steinhorn said.
Political pundits suggest that if Obama wants a woman on the ticket, he might consider Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius. Alternatively, if the first-term senator, who has been criticized for his lack of experience, wants to balance his ticket, he could consider adding an elder statesman like Delaware Senator Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, or New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, a former U.S ambassador to the United Nations.
Campaigns have attacked vice presidential candidates before, but it rarely has affected the outcome. So, despite the avid attention of the news media, Steinhorn said, the selection of vice presidential nominees ultimately "probably doesn't matter much" to voters.
See also "Process of Selecting Vice President Evolved over Centuries." ( http://www.america.gov/st/elections08-english/2008/July/20080711180349hmnietsua0.1257898.html )
Source: U.S. Department of State
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